Dr. Ken Nash from Cornerstone UMC, Grand Rapids, Michigan shares his journey leading their congregation into becoming a multi-site ministry. We are hoping to have Ken with us in the near future as a presenter at the AXIS Learning Community.
“A United Methodist Clergyperson’s Journey into Multi-site Ministry”
Rev. Dr. Ken Nash
One of my great heartbreaks in ministry came the year after I left my first pastoral appointment. I had served that church for six years following my graduation from seminary. The church was nestled in the center of a small town of 1200 people and had been a faithful congregation with an average of 80 attendees for nearly a century. During my years with them, the church experienced unprecedented growth as we averaged over 400 by the end of my tenure. However, within a year after my departure, much of the momentum shifted and the attendance waned dramatically.
Watching that decline occur cut me to the core. While there are many leadership theories regarding the rise and fall of these kinds of “flash in the pan” ministry moments, I have found one key rationale in this particular case—I failed to lead away from the microphone. Anyone with a mix of passion and creativity can gather some kind of crowd as they proclaim the Gospel boldly through a microphone, but I have become convinced that lasting change happens best when leaders have the courage to offer others the megaphone while sacrificially stepping into the shadowing role of mentor and coach.
This Ephesians 4 “equipping the saints for the ministry” is not a new concept in our history; in fact, training up the laity is in our Wesleyan DNA! Penn State sociologists Roger Finke and Rodney Stark confirm this in their research. They noted that from 1776 to 1850 there was a growth from 65 to 13,302 congregations in the United States. Their final evaluation revealed, “The dramatic metric rise of the Methodists was short-lived. It is instructive to note that the Methodists began to slump at precisely the same time that their amateur lay clergy were replaced by professionals who claimed episcopal authority over their congregations.[i]”
Nearly a decade has passed since moving from that small town ministry, and major shifts in my leadership have occurred as a result of these reflections. I now serve at Cornerstone Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Over the past few years, this large United Methodist church has grown into a multi-site ministry that is not a video venue. We used my new leadership philosophy and dissertation research to develop a launch team for our first site. Over a nine-month period, we taught the laity through a training academy that equipped them in the essentials of church planting.
It has been an incredible joy watching those men and women discover their gifts and callings in this type of ministry. We took over a dying congregation of 15 people that used to be the flagship ministry in downtown Grand Rapids. After training 85 people to relaunch that ministry, it has grown to over 300 average attendance over the past two years. That ministry is led by lay people, including the campus pastor who works part time for us and three-quarter time with a furniture manufacture.
Because of the unusual growth in that new site, we were approached by another local dying UMC congregation on the west side of town over a year ago. During that time, the 40 of them voted for us to officially adopt them in order that they might become a multi-site of Cornerstone. 25 of their original members plus 75 laity of Cornerstone joined together for another launch academy. We started that site in early October 2015 and have seen an average attendance just under 400 to this point. Once again, this site has been led by lay persons and the campus pastor who came from working at Panera Bread to being part time with us. FYI—Our campus pastors both have their Local Pastors License (so you can avoid commenting on that issue…lol).
Through the past 20 years as a pastor, I have experienced some very exciting times, however, I have never enjoyed ministry more than this season as I have the privilege of identifying, coaching and sending people into ministry in ways I never could have imagined. I have come to see that we truly are better together as we collaborate on message writing and care for a growing congregation as a pastoral team.
As I have had the opportunity to share this story in greater detail around the country, the question inevitably comes up about the effectiveness of this model in the UMC. As I see the fruit in our story and many other similar situations, I cannot help but find myself saying “for such a time as this.” As we see many churches within our denomination closing their doors, our connectional system is ripe for healthy UMC’s to train and send their laity to relaunch those ministries with a healthy DNA. The question is, will our clergy learn from our historical roots and have enough courage to lead away from the microphone as they train up others to lead in new and creative ways!
[i] Finke, Roger, and Rodney Stark. “How the Upstart Sects Won America: 1776-1850.” Journal
for the Scientific Study of Religion 28.1 (1989): 27.
Ken Nash serves as the Teaching Pastor and Director of Multi-site at Cornerstone UMC in Caledonia, Michigan. He has taught at dozens of conferences around the country throughout his 20 years as pastor and is currently coaching many multi-site church planters. Having written his dissertation on multi-site ministry through his doctoral studies, Ken is well versed in the fluid dynamics at work in this form of outreach.