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After miraculously acquiring a 110-acre property that was not even for sale but whose owners dedicated it to the Lord every day since 1942, we built our first church building in 2005 with a vision that "the hill" (the highest point in the southeast quadrant of the U.S.) would eventually be the home of "a church with a heart for the nations."
On a normal Thursday, after I blurted out on a Sunday morning in our 6,000 square-foot store front on a pothole-ridden street, "I believe God is going to give us 100-plus acres on I-35," a faith-filled couple in our church knocked on a door of a farmhouse and asked if they'd be interested in selling their property. The owner asked, "Who told you we had a family prayer meeting two nights ago and decided to sell the property to a church?"
That day changed our lives forever.
After telling this story countless times, our faith is still stirred by how God supernaturally provided. In January 2017, when we open our new building doors on top of the hill and see that promise come to fruition, we aren't counting on seats to be filled by simply throwing up a "We're Open!" sign. We've come to know a new house is not a home until it feels like a family. Although we may build it and they may come, they won't stay unless we build a vibrant culture where the church becomes a true spiritual family.
So what does that look like? We've been able to maintain our sense of family through establishing four spiritual family components:
1. Family language: Every healthy family is built around having shared core values and language. Some call it DNA; we call it culture. When we started Celebration Church with 54 people on opening Sunday, we knew that as we grew, we wanted our vision to stay the same, no matter how large the church became, and that vision and our values drive every decision. Unclear vision is easily hijacked.
2. Family gatherings: Although we place an emphasis on excellent weekend experiences, we understand that real ministry happens in circles. Small groups are the way that churches can create a living-room experience for their people to deepen their relationships with each other.
3. Family responsibilities: Just as in any family, there's a point where people move from being served to serving others. Our church is volunteer-driven (we call the volunteers our Dream Team) so that ministry is effective, others feel welcomed and people are encouraged to use their God-given gifts to provide a place for others' lives to be changed. One of the clearest things we do is to have an easy on-boarding process where people understand their next steps in getting on the team, which we do through four classes we call "Connection Point."
4. Family outings: It's easy to build a fortress and refuse to step outside our four walls, but Jesus said to "Go ..." (Matt. 28:19). We must continue to deliver hope to our community, the nation and the world. Local and global outreach isn't something we do; it's who we are.
Creating a strong culture supports everything we do to build, grow and reach a city for Jesus, enabling us to steward what's most important to Him: people.
Joe and Lori Champion are pastors of Celebration Church in Austin, Texas. In January 2017, the church will move into a new 2,700-seat sanctuary at one of the highest points in the region. Joe is currently on the Lead Team of the ARC Network of churches. Find out more at celebration.church.
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