by Monica Hoover
July – August, 2006
Instead of facing another building project and becoming a mega-church, Muncie Alliance Church in Muncie, Indiana, gave away three pastors, many other leaders, and hundreds of worshippers.
Only two years after a building project, Muncie Alliance Church (MAC) was running out of space again, this time in the newly built auditorium. Short-staffed, senior pastor Guy Pfanz, did not want to begin another building project, nor did he want the church to become so large a sense of community would be difficult to maintain.
As he studied the face of MAC he noticed two main characteristics. Students and families from surrounding cities composed a third of the church body. Each Sunday morning they transplanted themselves from the places where they lived and worked to attend church in a city they only visited for a few hours a week. They traveled to Muncie, however, because they specifically wanted to be a part of a church with MAC’s values and flavor.
So we asked, What if we brought MAC to the cities in which the commuting congregants lived? Attempting to keep the congregation smaller yet keep the values within the community at large, MAC planned to meet in multiple locations throughout Indiana: Anderson, Gas City, and downtown Indianapolis.
Transferring Our Values
This multi-site model would keep the congregations smaller and save MAC from building an even larger building. However, making sure the MAC values were passed on to these new locations was important for the life and growth of these extension churches. The congregants had to feel “at home” at these new sites or they would simply return to Muncie.
What were some of the things we did to create this at home environment where those meeting in each site shared core values?
The connectivity would largely come from homegrown pastors. This idea of homegrown staff falls in line with one of the values Muncie Alliance holds. Muncie Alliance believes in the priesthood of all Christians and therefore expects God to raise up people in His church to serve in His Kingdom. As Ephesians 4:11-13 explains, it is the responsibility of church leadership to train God’s people in the work of ministry. While considering the multi-site model, Pfanz noticed three young men in the church, Darren, Matt and Josh, who he believed were called to lead churches. When he first challenged the men to consider being pastors, they were apprehensive about leading churches on their own. While two of them had been youth pastors in the past, none of them had seminary degrees or pastoral experience. Initially, leading an entire church body seemed far too daunting.
Instead of cutting the ties and sending them off by themselves, Guy explained how he could walk alongside them in this new venture with his idea of a teaching pool. Teaching through each book of the Bible verse by verse is another MAC value. Some of these young men were more comfortable teaching the Word topically. In the teaching pool the new pastors and Pfanz could meet together on a weekly basis to prepare for and discuss the next portion of Scripture to be taught the following Sunday. Additionally, during this weekly meeting, Pfanz could field any questions from the new pastors. Through the connection of the teaching pool, Pfanz was able not only to mentor these young men but also to pass on the MAC values to them. In the end, the three men joined the teaching pool and as a result the new congregations felt as though they were still a part of the original MAC community, and in a sense, they still were.
Benefits of the Multi-site Model
Instead of starting a church from scratch, like church plants often do, this multi-site model gave the new churches and pastors a jump-start that cushioned the transition. For instance, over two hundred were in attendance in two of the churches on the first Sunday. These were the Anderson gathering, called The Mercy House, and Exit 59 that meets in Gas City. Matt and Darren did not have to wait for a core group to assemble before they began a Sunday morning service. Moreover, many in the congregation that first Sunday already owned the MAC values, knew what MAC believed, and how they functioned as a church.
Secondly, members of these new churches now minister to the communities in which they live, alongside their church. This was once a difficult proposition when they were forced to relocate to be amongst their church body. Instead of going to church 45 minutes away, they go to church down the street. And even better, they point their neighbors to their church down the street.
By creating multiple communities in multiple places, there are more opportunities for lay men and women to serve and lead in the body of Christ. Not only are Josh, Darren and Matt growing as leaders, but also so are many of the believers in Anderson, Gas City and Indianapolis as they step up to lead worship teams, home groups and other ministries within the new churches. The MAC value that God can use normal, everyday people to minister within His body has naturally reproduced in the new sites.
Finally, no one felt alone in preperation for the first Sunday. The responsiblities of the new church bodies were shouldered by large groups of people instead of only by a few. The perks of a built-in community continue today. The pastors, for instance, enjoy this same benefit. “I found out leadership doesn’t have to be lonely,” Matt, one of the site pastors, explains. The pastors in the churches enjoy community as a group of pastors. Regularly they meet with their peers who understand the demands and responsibilities of their job on an experiential level. They encourage each other and they share each others’ burdens when they have problems externally with buildings or internally within the church body. They know each others’ weaknesses and strengths and hold each other accountable to them.
Pfanz uncovered another bonus of the teaching pool in hindsight. “The group itself now mentors and fathers each other,” he said, “it’s not just me giving anymore. I’ve been built up and encouraged because of these young guys.”
The churches and pastors even do expansion work together. When a church within the Movement of Alliance Communities is led to open another site locally or overseas, the other sites announce it to the congregations so that others can join in by either supplying themselves or their finances for service.
The multi-site model, is something Pfanz and others in the church never planned. He believes God led them into this different take on church planting given the circumstances in which they found themselves. “Our multi-site model works so well it makes us look like we knew what we were doing,” Pfanz jokes. “That’s not true. God had a plan from the beginning and He brought it to pass.” Now this idea of launching teams of believers into ministry through this multi-site model is valued at MAC. When MAC attenders move to new towns for various reasons, they are challenged to go be the church with others in the congregation instead of shopping for one upon arrival.
The Sacrifice of Giving
The multi-site model is based on giving and giving stretches the body of Christ.
During the year after MAC launched three new sites, they weathered a financial crunch. Staff at MAC and the new pastors, who are already bi-vocational, took pay-cuts. As worshippers watched leaders in the church sacrifice, they followed suit and increased their giving.
The first Sunday the new sites were launched, those who remained in Muncie felt the loss numerically as the once-brimming church was now half empty. Church members sacrificed the opportunity to see close friends on a weekly basis as they gathered in other places.
At first sight, a church who gives away hundreds of people and leaders, and purposely stretches finances to cover three new churches appears reckless and borderline foolish. How will they all survive?
Giving unveils one of the ironies in the kingdom of God and it is essential to a healthy church. As Jesus instructs us, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
When MAC released a third of the church, they witnessed the number of people living out their call to serve in the body of Christ double over and over again. When MAC shared their finances with the new sites, they understood sacrifice while the new sites understood the importance of giving as they freely received. In the weakness of expending people and finances beyond apparent means, MAC watched God provide in His strength, boosting the faith of all involved.
And two years later, the churches are not only surviving, but also thriving. New churches have sprung up in Muncie and beyond. MAC currently meets in six different locations each week.
In the end, the work, headaches and heartache from sharing the church are minor inconveniences in comparison to seeing believers live out their call in the Kindgdom. Giving the church away did not take away from the whole; instead it added more of God’s life to all of us and to many who are joining us.
A freelance writer, Monica lives in Muncie, Indiana with her husband Shawn.
She is currently co-authoring a book with her pastor about how Christ builds His church.