Partnerships Turn Churches Around

Posted on March 20th, 2012
Will Johnson leads worship at recently-launched Turning Point Church

There are a lot of ways to plant and grow new churches.

Some say the multi-site model will become the standard for church growth, with numerous congregations sharing the vision and administration of one church, rather than expanding facilities and services in one location. Many new church plants are the result of a larger “parent” church providing the funds and people to get a new “daughter” church off the ground. Sometimes a denomination or larger church in the area sends a new leader to a dying congregation to cast a new vision and “restart” the congregation like a restaurant coming under new management.

The recently-launched Turning Point Church in Lexington, Ky., charted a unique course among these options, unexpected even to the church planter himself.

Planter Meets Planted

Josh Mauney, 29, moved to Lexington with his pregnant wife and toddler son in August, 2011, with a vision to launch a new church in a burgeoning-but-underchurched area north of the city.

Knowing that pastors can be “territorial” when it comes to a new church in their neighborhood, Mauney, who served as campus pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Freeport, Ill., for three years, sent an email to the other pastors in the area. He wanted them to know that he had no intention of stealing members from other churches, but rather aimed to reach the 83 percent of families in the area without a current church home.

Only two pastors responded, one of whom was Alex Kinchen, 40, pastor of Master’s Church, planted just seven years before by an older, more traditional church across town. Master’s Church had just under 100 people in worship and was, according to Mauney, “a “strange mix between traditional and what it might mean to be contemporary.”

Master's Church lacked a strong sense of identity, symptomatic of a desire to change without a clear methodology for doing so, said Kinchen. The church that planted Master’s Church received funding from the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s “High Impact” church planting initiative, but launched the new church in a “ready, fire, aim” sort of way, Kinchen said.

“It was a case study in how not to plant a church,” said Kinchen, who had been a Southern Baptist pastor in North Carolina before moving to Lexington in 2004 so that his wife could attend dental school at University of Kentucky.

The original pastor of Master’s Church left just two months after the launch, and Kinchen, attending and assisting at the church while awaiting another call, stepped into the role. It was a rocky start for the church, and out of 150 original members, around one-third drifted away. Nonetheless, there was a small contingent that was committed to changing their neighborhood and finding a way to turn Master's Church around.

Meanwhile, Mauney was following his calling to plant a new, vibrant church in Kentucky. “While God was shaping our vision for Turning Point, he was pruning and shaping [Master’s Church] for something like this,” said Mauney.

Upon meeting, Mauney and Kinchen hit it off immediately, and within a week Kinchen suggested planting Turning Point together. Instead of Mauney starting Turning Point from scratch and Master’s Church closing six months later (as it was on the trajectory to do, especially if a dynamic new church popped up), Kinchen’s congregation would become the launch team a church planter typically spends months gathering, and they could put financial resources toward renovating Master’s Church’s building, rather than buying trailers and other equipment to do set up and tear down in a school cafeteria every week.

Turning in a New Direction

Things moved quickly, but the two pastors were intentional about getting buy-in from key members of Master’s Church. They presented the idea to the church’s Spiritual Advisory Council and other respected laypeople. Mauney spoke as a guest preacher one week, and Kinchen followed up, both emphasizing the mission of serving the kingdom as opposed to serving an individual congregation.

This message was central to the shift in focus people would need to make in order to reach out to unchurched people. “Any church that wants to turn the corner must filter everything through the lens of people we haven’t met yet,” says Mauney, who was trained through the Association of Related Churches (ARC), a non-denominational church planting support network.

There was a small amount of resistance, mainly in the form of “petty hallway conversations,” Kinchen said. Mauney told Kinchen, “be prepared for 50 percent of these people that you know and love to walk out the door.”

As it turned out, 90 percent stayed on, agreeing to do the work necessary to launch the new church.

Midweek launch team meetings (including worship and preaching) replaced weekend services for several months as preparations progressed and the building was renovated. Some congregations might balk at such a plan, but these people understood what Mauney called “kingdom math.” It might feel like a loss to close Master’s Church, but it was dying so that it could give birth to something new, Mauney said.

Turning Point Church had its first Sunday worship on Feb. 12 with 285 people in attendance. With over 500 unique visitors in their first three weeks, it shouldn’t be hard to reach their goal of having that many people in attendance on Easter Sunday, when they will launch a second service. Mauney says they hope to double the number of people serving—currently 75—by Easter as well.

A True Partnership

People often ask Mauney and Kinchen who is “really in charge,” but the two say they truly are co-pastors with very different gifts.

Kinchen’s passion is for discipleship and counseling; he manages the church’s small groups. Mauney’s strength is leadership development and vision casting; he is already exploring locations for new campuses of Turning Point. (The “cn” in the church’s web address, www.turningpointcn.com, stands for “church network,” as going multi-site was planned from the beginning.)

They plan the preaching schedule together, and share those duties. Kinchen said it could be easy for either of them to worry that the other is more visible, since Mauney preached the first series of the new church and Kinchen will be preaching on Easter, but the two are committed to a team-based ministry.

It is a biblical model, Mauney points out, to send two disciples out together, providing accountability for one another.

“God made it clear that us together is better than us separate,” said Kinchen.

Successful co-pastorates are rare enough, but Kinchen’s openness to sharing leadership and participating in what amounts to a death and rebirth of the church he led is truly remarkable.

Mauney agrees. “Alex’s humility made it possible. . . . This would happen more often if there were more guys with his kind of character.”

Kinchen says that while, of course, he strives for humility, this kind of partnership “challenges” his upbringing in Southern Baptist churches where, he says, “we were taught to see the pastor as CEO.”

It Can Happen Elsewhere

Partnerships like this don’t always require the serendipity Mauney and Kinchen experienced. With humility and intentionality, churches can work together in many contexts to create more vital congregations.

In Louisville, Ky., Middletown Christian Church took the fast-declining Valley Christian Church under its wing as a second campus, investing human and financial resources to revitalize Valley and launch distinct ministries tailored to meeting needs in its area of town.

Similarly, Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, has restarted several dying congregations in its area. One, Medway United Methodist Church, is independent and now self-sustaining. Another, Fort McKinley, is a campus of Ginghamsburg serving an economically and racially diverse population that the church’s main campus struggled to reach.

“You intentionally choose to ‘reboot’ dying churches within neighborhoods where core, debilitating needs are clearly not being met by other churches,” Ginghamsburg pastor Mike Slaughter explains in his book Change the World, “because they lack the missional commitment or the necessary resources.” (Chapter five of Change the World offers details on their process and vision for church restarts.)

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, in Leawood, Kan., advocates voluntary mentoring partnerships between smaller and larger congregations as a way to strengthen the smaller congregations without an overall merger.

Hamilton says such strategic partnerships are key to increasing the number of vital congregations in the United Methodist Church, a major goal of the denomination’s General Conference, starting next month. (This is one of Hamilton's recommended Four Steps Toward Vitality.)

“In Indiana, a church of 220 per weekend in worship has voluntarily partnered with two churches with an average attendance of 14 each, supplying the pulpit with lay and clergy and sharing resources. All three churches are stronger today,” Hamilton says. “At Resurrection, we are piloting a program in which we’re partnering with three smaller churches across the United States, offering coaching, tools, and Resurrection’s sermons via video to see if these resources can help revitalize these congregations.”

“This kind of connectionalism would see our large number of smaller churches not as a liability but a tremendous opportunity,” said Hamilton.

Whether churches merge or mentor, leaders and laypeople must be “honest with themselves,” Mauney says. They must acknowledge what is not working and what they can learn from others, and realize that they are better off together than apart.

Four thousand churches will close their doors this year, Mauney says, but churches could turn this statistic around with a humble willingness to work together for the greater good.

“You’ve got to be willing to say, ‘I love God’s church more than I like being right.'”

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