For Ed Young, however, the shadow cast by his father wasn't just big, it was megachurch big, from a dad with a worldwide broadcast ministry, the largest singles ministry in the United States and a church (Houston's Second Baptist) that now numbers more than 45,000. Add to that a pair of brothers in high-profile ministry positions—Ben is associate pastor at Second Baptist; Cliff is the lead singer for well-known Christian band Caedmon's Call. High standards? Imminent comparisons? Most definitely.
Yet more than 17 years after the younger Young broke away from the elder, Dr. Ed Young, to start Fellowship Church, one thing remains obvious: Doing things big—Texas-size big—runs in the family.
Fellowship Church (FC), located in four Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex campuses and one in Miami, now has more than 20,000 people enter its doors every weekend. Young (hereinafter referring to the younger) can be seen daily on television throughout the world, has written 11 books and is one of the premier creative pastors in the body of Christ.
And his style couldn't be more different than his father's.
"The great thing about going to Dallas," Young says of his move from Houston in 1989, "was that I was able to cut the cord, so to speak. Of course people knew who my father was up here. But the biggest thing for me to go through as I became my own man was developing my own style. I had to learn how to be myself."
I Am Me
Becoming comfortable in his own skin wasn't automatic for Young. During his first few years of pastoring he naturally took after his father's preaching techniques and style. Mission church Las Colinas Baptist hired Young to serve as senior pastor, but shortly after he came on board the church not only went through multiple name changes, it also shifted to a seeker-sensitive style modeled after Willow Creek Community Church. That didn't go over too well with the initial 150 people attending.
"Basically, after about four or five months I wanted to quit," Young admits. "Irving, at the time, was probably the worst place you'd want to start a church. There were churches everywhere, on every corner. There was no bloodshed on the church floor or anything like that, but after the first year about 85 to 90 percent of the original people who started FC left. There was a lot of negativity and criticism. Those were very difficult times that made me question: Did God really say Irving? Maybe He said Irvine—as in California."
The turning point for both Young and FC occurred on July 4th weekend of 1990, when he first preached about the church's vision and that of his own life. Having drawn a line in the sand, the then-29-year-old pastor looked up to find seven families still standing with him. Today each of those families is still represented on FC's staff. And what Young outlined back then remains essentially the same.
"Our vision hasn't really changed," says FC executive pastor Preston Mitchell, one of those original members who stayed. "It's pretty much the same thing on a bigger basis. ... Logistics are a little different now that you've got so many more people on campus. [But] when we had 100 people, we had parking lot guys, and we had ushers and greeters. We just have more of them now."
Freedom to Fail
Along with more parking attendants, bigger buildings and a larger staff come more stories of success—and failure. Young is quick to allude to the numerous mistakes he's made along the way while attempting to keep his ministry relevant, engaging and innovative. In what has become almost legendary at FC, the pastor once attempted "simultaneous services" after the church expanded to an arts center across the parking lot. For several weeks, he preached at one site while the worship team led at the other—and the two groups would switch at some point during the service. The idea, by Young's own account, was "a miserable failure."
The majority of other mishaps revolve around Young's onstage creativity. To show how worship isn't compartmentalized, he's cut through cubbyholes with a chainsaw—as boards flew everywhere. While illustrating how we often jump from emotion to emotion, he narrowly missed a fall as he leapt from the platform to a rope swinging across the congregation. Yet such laughable experiences go hand-in-hand with Young's unorthodox but ultimately memorable teaching style.
"We've tried from the get-go to create a culture that makes mistakes but isn't afraid of trying things," he says. "The higher the unpredictability, the more you communicate. ... If you look at the life of Jesus, He used different methodologies to communicate the same theology. His message was the same, but His methods were constantly different. We in the church should spend time thinking about how Christ communicated, how we can take technology and things of our day and use them as illustrations and word pictures so people can get it. That's all we're doing—it's nothing new. It's as old as the New Testament."
Young stresses, however, that FC's goal is not to "put on a bigger and better show each and every weekend. Sometimes the most creative element can be the most simplistic, the most basic; it can be a very dialed-down service. Other times it can have a lot of different elements that can even borderline on sensory overload. We just try to change it. Christianity is all about change. Whenever you have change, you've got conflict, and with conflict, you've got growth. It's the spin-cycle of growth."
Growth Beyond the Numbers
The 46-year-old pastor certainly knows a thing or two about growing through creativity, which is why he began a series of conferences and a Web site dedicated to helping other pastors and church leaders find similar success (see "Tapping Your Inner Genius"). That doesn't necessarily mean a larger church or ministry, however. "Some of the greatest churches I've seen in my travels are the smaller churches," Young points out. "Usually the giant ones are the ones we hear of, yet some of the lesser-known churches are probably some of the most effective."
For all his ingenious methods of communicating, Young's message to pastors—whatever the size of their congregations—is essentially the same: "Every church should be growing because living things grow." To keep a church healthy, active, creative and maturing, he offers these seven keys:
1. Say it and spray it—often. Leaders love to pull out the old "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18, KJV) card. And yet churches typically perish just as rapidly when a vision exists but is never declared by those who lead. Asserting what your church is about and why it does what it does from the pulpit is a must to discover who is truly on board.
"I've discovered that people forget why they do what they do after about three weeks," Young says half-jokingly. "When it comes to changed lives and evangelism, it's all about the vision. We want to say it, spray it, wheel it, deal it [and] make them feel it for the purpose of the church. And the purpose, of course, is to glorify God and to share Christ."
2. Go gospel. There's a reason why fellow megachurch pastor Rick Warren describes Young as one of the country's "premier evangelistic preachers" and "a pro at capturing the mind-set of the guy who hates church." Under Young's leadership, FC saw more than 2,300 new believers baptized last year alone. Sixty-two percent of those were age 18 or older, while 70 percent had no church background. In addition, more than 95 percent of those who enter FC's doors do so at the invitation of a friend, proving that at least two-thirds of FC's mantra of "reaching up, reaching out and reaching in" rings true with the congregation.
At the core of every activity within church, Young believes, must be the simple message of the gospel. "It's always about the gospel, no matter if it's about marriage and family, whether you're going through the Book of Romans, whether you're doing a character study or talking about being comfortably uncomfortable as a Christian. It's all about Jesus, and we have to point people to the cross because if we're not, we're just talking about good things and nice things. There has to be that focal point."
>3. Pastor your future church. Young often tells leaders to pastor their churches as if they were three or four times their present size. This isn't just for pastors' own sake, but to prepare the entire congregation for future growth. FC staff members can attest to the wisdom behind this directive as they've seen their church increase a hundredfold.
"Ed knows 'church' better than anyone I have ever met," says Troy Page, FC's communications pastor. "I think his experiences with his dad prepared him for the quick growth we have experienced. I remember him telling us, 'Get ready [because] this and that will happen in the future as we grow.' Sure enough, it did!"
4. Use what you've got. For a congregation as large as FC, the church's staff remains surprisingly—and intentionally—lean (the Grapevine "headquarters" has 206 full-time and 66 part-time workers). The reason is twofold: Young is cautious when appointing the title of ministry leader to those who will shepherd; and he believes the church body should be comprised of active contributors rather than "La-Z-Boy Christians." Because of this, FC is renowned for its "all-inclusive" approach to ministry—more than 6,000 individuals help out at least once a month.
5. Do only what only you can do. Every pastor knows the feeling of being overwhelmed with responsibilities, expectations and a "to do" list longer than Leviticus. We're good at taking on burdens, whether we have the ability or gifting to resolve them or not. Yet as multitasking as Young is (even by a pastor's standards), he learned early on that the effectiveness of his ministry would be determined by his discipline in limiting his scope. Find those things that you're good at, he believes, and assign the rest to those who are more qualified.
"As far as my schedule as a leader, I still put about 70 to 75 percent of my time in weekend message preparation," Young says. "I did that 17 years ago, and I do that today."
Easy for a megachurch pastor to say, right? What about bivocational pastors or those who are just starting churches and have no staff? Having experienced this, Young emphasizes that any pastor in any situation can use delegation. "Use the laity and treat them like staff," he advises. "Even though you can't pay them, delegate to them. God has, I believe, a leadership core around everybody, but we have to have discernment to see who's around us to utilize their giftedness. ... Too many pastors are trying to do too much stuff. What happens is that you get stuck in the superfluous and miss the significant."
6. Be your own best critic. FC plans every service, ministry and activity using creative teams. Even Young's messages are group efforts. The same approach is used in critiquing everything from segues to sermon illustrations. "I can only have so many original thoughts or cool ideas," Young says. "But, someone else can double my thinking; another person added can triple it. Starting this creative team approach has been the greatest thing that I've done in ministry next to starting Fellowship Church."
7. Grow with subtraction. "A church develops and grows as much by subtraction as by addition," Young says. "When you make the key decision to delegate rather than take on everything, you're going to see subtraction. Every time you take a hill, you will have casualties. Every time you go to the next level, there's going to be a new devil, and people are going to go by the wayside. So don't tell me who's coming to your church, tell me who's leaving your church. Because whenever you talk about vision, people will bolt—and that's OK, because when they bolt, more will be added."
Obviously, that has been the case at FC, which continues to face the challenges of growth. Last year the church added a Miami campus, and additional ones are in the planning. Regardless of FC's size, Young is determined to stay true to the core vision that he believes God gave him almost 17 years ago, even if that means breaking from tradition just as he did then. "Back then I knew God was going to do something awesome," Young says, "but I had no idea that it was going to be what it is today."
Has Ed Gone Charismatic?
His father may be a traditional Southern Baptist pastor who twice served as president of the Convention, but Ed Young has continually and intentionally kept one foot in the Baptist world and the other amid the smorgasbord of interdenominationalism. He's a frequent speaker at of denominational conferences, and his buddy list spans the faith spectrum with names such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and Erwin McManus. Still, it's his association in recent years with the likes of T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Tommy Barnett and Creflo Dollar that's raised eyebrows and drawn harsh criticism from fundamentalists.
Young, in typical manner, deflects the negativity with his clear-cut passion to grow in both ministry and education. "I have a lot of great friends in the charismatic-Pentecostal world," Young says. "I've learned so much from them and their churches and gained so much from their friendship. Our church has been heavily influenced by charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I love their openness, the expectancy of those styles—that God is going to do something great, something big. I like the encouragement, the positivity, obviously the worship and the music, and the entrepreneurial vibe in many of those churches. I like the structure; many of those churches have a great view of some of the authority issues that our culture is trying to process.
"I can learn from everybody whether their church has five people or 50,000. Leaders need to ask the right people the right questions to get the right answers. But the tough thing is finding the right people to ask the right questions—and to do that, you got to ask the wrong people the right questions and discover who the right people are."