Because I am excited to have you on "the climb" with me, I want to let you know a little more about me and how I started doing what I do.
I came to the church I serve, Eastside Christian Church, when I was 14 years old. I never saw anything like it. It was around 800 people in 3 services and back in that day, that was extraordinary. I remember feeling so welcome that I joined the 35 teens that were meeting in a trailer in the parking lot for youth group. By the time I graduated from high school, the church was over 2000 people and there were 600 students attending on Wednesday nights.
I saw so many changed lives (including my own), that it changed my career trajectory. I choose to not attend the college I planned on and choose instead to go to Bible college to pursue a degree in ministry. After I completed it, 2 big things happened:
- A group of us were sent by Eastside to start a daughter church, Community Christian Church (CCC) where I served for 27 years, the last 17 of those years as Senior Pastor.
- I married Michelle Benson the must beautiful and fun woman I will ever know.
Gene Appel came back to Eastside in 2008, this time as Senior Pastor. Gene had interned at Eastside when I was a Senior in high school and stayed at my home during part of that season in his education. Both churches now were facing critical facility issues. The short story: both churches remerged after 27 years at a new location half way between the two. It was a highly successful merge, but that is an assimilation story for another day...
I remember Gene asking me what I wanted to do when I rejoined the Eastside staff. I said, "I've been doing whatever it takes so long, I need to think on that". I came back with a 1 page word doc that detailed the things I did that seemed to give me an energy outside my own and also resulted in transformation in the lives of others. Gene said, "Then that's your job!".
I hope that's how you feel about what you do because that's how I still feel about being the Director of Assimilation at Eastside.
The truth was I really didn't know what I was doing. There, I said it.
Gene gave me pretty much a blank slate for creating an assimilation environment to connect the guests that were arriving in large numbers due to our relocation and outreach strategy after the churches merged back together.
What happened that first year still astounds me:
- 1 out of 3 guests got baptized
- Almost half became part of a small group
- 1 out of 7 became a volunteer
- 1 out of 14 crossed a border on a Compassion Trip
- 1 out of 20 became a leader
In the process, we became the 11th fastest growing church in the country that year. (Click here for a short video podcast that describes exactly what we did).
Nobody was more surprised than I was. What I was equally surprised by was finding out that an inability to connect large numbers of people was THE issue holding back the church in our culture. Seriously. Churches in North America know how to attract crowds of people. Most just don't know how to keep them and grow them. I was shocked, but I had accidentally fallen that year into one of the hugest needs of the church in the Untied States and beyond.
With all this came a sharp learning curve for me. We made changes, we made mistakes, and those failures produced learnings that informed new advances that led us to become the 2nd fasting growing church in the U.S. in 2017. (Click here for an audio podcast that describes changes and updates we have made to our assimilation strategy and why).
This season produced several things that I hope provide value to you, your team and your church in the season ahead:
- The creation of the "Climbing the Assimilayas" website where I regularly post assimilation learnings to resource those who contact me.
- The idea that we are Sherpas, helping others ascend the summit of full connection to our churches.
- Leading Base Camps for leaders and church staff teams from 7 different countries on 5 continents to form more effective assimilation strategies for their ministries.
My journey as a follower of Jesus has led me to this place after 3-plus decades of leading in the local church.
That's who I am and what I am about.