Sabbatical Week 3: Visit to a Multi-Site Church where the Buildings self-fund!

June 21, 2017

FullSizeRender-5.jpgCrossroads, FayettevilleI first met Chad Pullins when my office was offering a workshop for churches wanting to go multi-site. Healthy churches that take on satellite locations are popping up all across the world. Chad has a unique approach. He emphasizes that the parent church must first hammer out its DNA for mission and why we want to expand our footprint for the Kingdom. Chad led Crossroads Church in Fayetteville, N.C. (a United Methodist community of faith) in assessing the New Testament model for church expansion.

They identified God’s calling at this juncture in their life together and then started a second site. They intentionally learned from John Wesley’s model for starting a church in a particular place based on the hurts and hopes of the people in that community. Today their locations are critically placed to minister to people with addictions, loneliness, family challenges and financial strains.

I sat down with Chad and two of the campus pastors, Nick Rich and Kyle Burrows, in the coffee shop area of their gathering space at the parent campus – Crossroads South. These pastors serve as a team, build a common series for the combined campus and then teach the same message at all locations. The church serves Fayetteville as one body in multiple locations. This city has a very large military population which is a blessing and challenge. Military families tend to be very interested in the church and highly committed. Yet they move about every 2-4 years. So leaders are raised up and sent to new places. Crossroads is a mission sending body in this way. They intentionally disciple all their members so they make great missionaries at their new military base community.

One aspect of the Crossroads network that caught my attention was the way they fund their facilities. Fayetteville is a military town and highly blue collar and middle income. So facility costs are a huge challenge. They set up a separate LLC that owns their buildings, runs the coffee shop and handles the rental usage. At present, 60% of the facility costs (mortgage, utilities and upkeep) is funded through the LLC. This is very unusual and a great idea for churches. They rent their large meeting spaces for receptions, dinners, community events, etc. And their coffee shop is open 5 days a week.

Chad, Nick and Kyle shared with me that one of their priorities is doing life together as disciples and families. So they are intentional to share family meals, retreats, read books together and just have fun. This feeds their accountability, relationship building and avoids clergy family isolation. I think it improves teaching and leading the church as they learn from one another, have strong relational support and have natural connections for accountability and input into one another’s campuses and ministry.


 My Sabbatical Blog week 2: “The Anatomy of a Failed Church Plant”

June 12, 2017


Grace Community Church began in 2015 in a suburb community close to a major university in North Carolina. It started with a core group of 16, launched on its first Sunday with 54 people and grew quickly to an average of 170 adults and children within six months. The church had a passionate, gifted pastor with a dynamic worship leader and was located in a growing community. They began with an effective social media campaign and an impressive interactive website. They had a well-organized welcome team and children’s ministry. So why did they close after only 19 months?

Here’s the anatomy of this failure as gleaned from the leaders I interviewed:

First, Grace CC launched prematurely. This is the reason for many failed church plants. They launched before they had hammered out their values, vision and unique mission in their community. When they experienced hard times, they did not have a strong foundation to hold them together. The church launched before raising up enough key leaders and teams of volunteers. By month 5, leaders were burning out for lack of others to share the load and the pastor’s family kept picking up the slack. This is a recipe for disaster!

The staff was hired quickly without checking references and proper vetting. The worship leader was gifted and talented yet he could not build a team and his ego was huge. And the administrator did not build consensus and did not have a desire to teach stewardship. The leadership would find out later that both staff members had left previous churches for these same reasons. The worship leader left abruptly in month 6 when the leaders confronted his leadership style.

There was a big disconnect between the church and the community. The pastor was much more conservative than the community. People were drawn to the pastor’s charisma, the talent of the worship leader and the impressive social media that connected with the young, high-tech workforce in the area. Yet people did not stay when they realized the church’s message lacked grace and mercy for the poor and hurting despite the church’s name.

The church started without first connecting with the community. They did not hold any introductory or outreach events prior to launch, no listening sessions and never conducted a Mission Insite study to better understand the demographics of their population and what they were interested in.

Since they launched too quickly, they did not have a strong plan for assimilating people. They offered only an orientation class led by the pastor. They failed to recruit and train group leaders. People felt disconnected and new believers had too many unanswered questions.

The death nail of this new faith community occurred when the pastor and administrator made a major decision without a church vote or even an information meeting. A large tract of land close to their rental space became available on short sale at a discounted price. So the pastor and administrator went to the bank, borrowed the money and saddled the church with a mortgage payment.

After one year, the church had an $8000 mortgage payment, was searching for a worship leader and was trying to jump start small groups while replacing key leaders who had burned out. Three months later Grace CC missed their mortgage payment and the pastor called a churchwide meeting following worship to explain the problem to the congregation. People were furious that he had bought the land without discussion with the leaders and a churchwide vote. Over 60 people never returned again to the church.

The church’s problems only got worse as offerings continued to drop. More mortgage payments were missed, the pastor suffered an anxiety attack one Sunday before worship and the people lost confidence in their future. By month 19, the new faith community was in turmoil, the pastor was on leave and only 3 staff members were still in place. The young church declared bankruptcy, the remaining staff were dismissed and worship ceased at Grace CC.

A failed church start is painful for all involved. It can leave a community of faithful people and seekers scared and disillusioned. Such is the case of the people I interviewed and many like them. The pastor is still struggling with stress and anxiety, and understandingly so, he declined to discuss the church’s story with me. He needs space, restoration of hope and time to evaluate his call at this point in his ministry.

There is much we can learn from this account. Most of these mistakes could have been avoided if the pastors and leadership had taken their time. You can’t rush Kingdom success. When you get ahead of the Holy Spirit, you are on dangerous ground! Leaders need accountability structures, to value consensus building and to listen to wise counsel from a coach, mentors and one another.





My Sabbatical Begins…

June 7, 2017

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that a pastor is to take a sabbatical every 5-7 years for the purpose of study, renewal and rest. I have not done this since 2005 so I am very grateful to my bishop for approving this time and to my staff for filling the gaps while I am away. During this time, I plan to focus on learning more about the Fresh Expressions Movement. Each week I will write a blog report from my visits to Fresh Expressions sites, from books I am reading and insights from people I am interviewing.

My first field visit was last week to Shades of Grace UMC in Kingsport, Tennessee. See the pictures below. Shades of Grace is a worshiping community in downtown Kingsport meeting in a storefront location. The congregation is about 50% homeless people and 50% folks from Kingsport who support the mission and have found a life transforming faith in this ministry.

Rev. Will Shewey was called of God to start this ministry and told me and Meri that he literally felt he would die if he did not follow this vision. They have been meeting 3 years & have become fully self-supporting. People hear about the ministry and give generously.  They have dozens of volunteers, 2 pastors and other staff who give their time freely. They have an active social media presence and receive gifts from far and wide. They serve breakfast daily, offer GED classes, Bible study, lively worship, a clothes closet, and multiple services.

When they first opened, some of the local business people tried to shut them down. These leaders researched the UMC and our commitment to social justice and the poor. They came to Rev. Shewey and said they discovered that Methodism was a global movement with strong connections nationwide. They realized they could not shut the church down so they decided instead to join in and support the mission. Shades of Grace works closely with the city and business community to be a good neighbor and now they are welcomed and supported by many businesses, even the local funeral home!

Their worship service includes prayers at the altar and people stream forward for this ministry. They have seen numerous miracles and lives changed. They have also seen some people stay on the street and even lose their life. Their saving grace is to know they were Christ’s presence to them and hopefully showed them God’s unconditional love and amazing grace.


February 4, 2017

This is a true story of a modern American hero. Staff Sargent Travis Miles grew up in small town America. He was raised in a typical large family of the midwest, excelled in high school sports, pulled pranks on his friends like other kids and aspired to make something of his life. He joined the army and wanted to serve his country. On his second duty to Iraq, he was wounded by an IED and lost all four of his limbs.

As the medics transported him to an area hospital, his only concern was his fellow soldiers and remarkably, he cheered them on without even focusing on his own loss of all mobility in his body. His recovery was long and difficult as expected. He experienced an extended coma, the ups and downs of physical therapy and tremendous pain. Yet Travis never lost hope and always was protective of his extended family and newlywed wife. Together they persevered as a family. Travis received artificial limbs and rallied to learn to use them to the fullest.

Today, he is now a dad, walks and lifts on his own and is eager to share his story to encourage his fellow injured warriors and challenge young people to serve their country and be a person of courage and hope. The book is a good read for people who enjoy a powerful story, crave testimonies of faith and need a reminder that heroes are still emerging in our culture.

(“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”)




My Bucket List

February 24, 2015

It seems many of the men my age have a Bucket List. Recently some people asked me what is on my bucket list, so here we go:

1. To spend a day with my grandchild all by myself. Yes, it’s the first thing I think of because our first grandchild is expected in four months. I would like my daughter to leave the child with old dad and let me care for her, sing to her and show her off to all my friends. I am not afraid and my daughter should not be either. I did just fine by her!

2. To write a book that gets published. I wrote one in 2004 that was condensed by the publisher into a magazine article. It got published in two journals yet I still want to write a book. On what subject, I have no idea. I’ll come up with that later.

3. To return to my childhood camps and spend a night or so. I loved growing up at two great camps in Alabama. Camp Winnataska is about an hour east of Birmingham. I learned to ride a horse there, make a hemp rope necktie, enjoyed pillow fights, dressing in native clothing for Indian night, singing around the bonfire and competing in Derby Night. The second camp is my Ebenezer. Camp Sumatanga, located about an hour northeast of Bham, is where God hammered out my call to ministry, introduced me to creative worship, the place I got my first kiss, learned to square dance and loved to escape/retreat to at least one weekend a month during high school. I had friends there that were as close as siblings. Wonderful place!

4. Travel to some places Meri and I still want to get to: New Zealand, the Hershey Plant in Pennsylvania, and the Amish Country there. Hawaii and even Las Vegas, not to gamble, just to enjoy the sights, sounds and attractions. Also to stay at Animal Kingdom in Disney World and go across the city to Hogwarts at Universal. And take an Alaskan cruise.

5. Some places I still have not convinced Meri to visit yet are on my list:  China, fish the Amazon River, go back to the Congo and worship in the churches where I helped raise funds for new roofs, and take a cruise through the Panama Canal.

6. Refinish some old furniture. I did this when we first married and have not done a piece in 20 years. Takes a lot of time and patience.

7. Catch a largemouth bass of 8 pounds or more, take a picture of it and release it. Then have a picture of it in my office, but not a mounted fish. I would rather know it’s still out there producing more bass for me to catch! And take Anna with me to fish once again and see her catch a large fish, but not larger than mine.

8. Cook breakfast for my children and have all of them in our home with their future kids for a whole weekend. The last time I did this the grits were terrible. How do you mess up grits?

9. Eventually work for my son in the church where he is the lead pastor or the teaching pastor. I already learn so much from him and would like to work on his team.

10. Live long enough to do all this with my sweetheart Meri and be with her as she completes her list as well. And I do look forward to the day in retirement when she gets to choose where we live and where we worship. She has been a good sport to always go where I am sent and support my ministry there through blessings and challenges.

Well…that’s enough for now. Time to get to it!!

JONAH and ISIS – there is a connection.

February 10, 2015

Jonah is the reluctant prophet who did not want to go and preach Good News to the people of Nineveh. He was not scared of them, lazy, or unprepared. He knew that God would do what God does best – God would show them mercy and save them. What’s wrong with that? Well, Nineveh is in present day Syria, you know, the land of ISIS. Get it now? Many of us do not want mercy and salvation for this terrible group of terrorist thugs. Right!? It is more than a coincidence that this group destroyed the tomb of Jonah.

This morning a young prophet/youth minister friend of mine said the biggest need of the student generation is their desire for mercy. They long for it from their parents, their teachers and friends. They experience it in very few people, so his team seeks to show mercy and teach them all about it through words and actions. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful…” (Matthew 5: 7).

One of the hardest things to do is to show mercy to those we deem evil and have brought pain into our lives. Yet God is calling present day Jonahs to go to Syria and bring Good News even to ISIS. This morning I read of a Japanese Christian who wanted to go and his government revoked his passport.

There is someone in your circle right now that needs mercy. Will you share the very mercy that God has poured into you? Are you a judge, a Jonah or a merciful servant? What’s the connection for you?

A New Church Down the Street: Competition or Cooperation?

January 26, 2015

Recently another mega-church moved to our church’s community. So yesterday we prayed for them and I told my church we welcomed them. You see,  only 20% of our county is active in a church. Even if this new church attracts 10,000 people, it will only increase this percentage by 1.5%. We need them and they need us – so my prayer is we will work together to reach those who do not yet know Jesus and need a church home.

The amazing fact is yesterday when this new church opened with much publicity and buzz, we had our largest attendance in over a year in worship and our largest turnout for our Discipleship Classes ever! We also had 21 youth start in our Confirmation Class and we baptized 20 youth and adults. This was huge! And a sign we need more churches in this area, certainly not less.

Research shows that when a new church opens, all the surrounding churches grow as well. That is, all the healthy churches. So our emphasis on worship, small groups and calling everyone to places of service has made us stronger. We emphasize a “church of connections” where you will be known by name, where you can be part of a small group and have a place of service that makes a difference in this community. When you are in the hospital or crisis, a pastor will contact or visit you personally. People looking for this find a home here and stick with us.

I well know of the church that just opened around the corner. They are doing good, kingdom work in many places. Their youth minister, Reed Moore, used to be on my staff in a previous church. He is a great guy who reaches young people who would have never come to a church. He was my son’s mentor and now my son is a Youth Minister! Pray for our sister churches, welcome them and invite them to join us in showing the amazing love of God to this community. We need to be the church, the body of Christ, TOGETHER! God will bless our unity!!



Suicide: talk about it and respond as Christ’s body

January 15, 2015

Two weeks ago I lost a very good friend to depression and suicide. He was a fellow pastor and a confidant of mine. His humor was contagious, his insights brilliant and he was a mighty encourager to me and hundreds of people. His pastor said at the funeral, “Sometimes even the experts get lost.” This is so true. All of us can feel lost, trapped in hopelessness and surrounded by darkness.

I already miss Chris. I am angry he won’t be there next week when we had planned to meet together. I am confused and ask God, “Why?” The lesson I am learning is that the church needs to talk more about mental illness. When someone in our church has cancer, we pray publicly for them, take them a prayer quilt and deliver meals to their family. When someone is suffering from mental illness, is chronically depressed or bipolar, we are embarrassed, few people go to visit them, take a meal or sends cards. We do not know how to respond or what to say.

Last year, over 500,000 people attempted suicide in this country, and one-third of them succeeded. If you or a loved one is depressed, bipolar, suffers from dementia or has ADHD, schizophrenia or any mental condition, our staff, prayer ministers and Stephen Ministers care about you, will walk with you and will never condemn you or look down on you. Our church, our pastors, the Healing Rooms and the Haven of Hope Counseling Center are here FOR YOU AND THIS COMMUNITY.

I ask you to be attentive, alert and available to your neighbors who are suffering, many times in silence. Our churches can make a big difference. Let’s live and share God’s love with all people and let others know we need not fear, for our God is with us and came to save us. Call me anytime. I am honored to serve as a pastor to broken, imperfect people, for this is me as well.

A Millenial’s Quest for Faith and Answers

July 25, 2014

Recently I read a book about a young man going through a crisis in his relationships, his life purpose and his faith. His story is told in a novel by Trevin Wax entitled, Clear Winter Nights. I read the book after being asked to write a review of it. This turned out to be a generous gift of understanding.

The book takes us along on a journey with Chris Walker, a millenial raised in the Christian faith yet now questioning everything in his life as a young adult out of college and trying to find his path. His fiancé challenges him to go see and talk with his grandfather, a retired pastor who Trevor loves dearly and respects. His visit is a timely one where Trevor debates, argues and listens to the mature faith and wisdom of his grandad.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is when Trevor asks how a Christian is to respond to someone who is a follower of Jesus yet living a life and making choices contrary to Biblical teaching. His grandad tells him:

“God makes us in the image of Christ.So, yes, we will grow and become better than we were. But if you think the whole moral point of Christianity is about moral reformation, you’ll find out quickly how powerless you are to make that reformation happen.” (Page 31)

He goes on to explain how God’s Spirit works in us in what is called the process of sanctification, that is, being made holy not by our strengths, but by the grace and leading of God. I recommend this book to Millenials, people who serve among them and just want to understand this generation better. They are a thoughtful generation that is attracted to relationships and authenticity, and not to closed systems or easy answers.

When Your Mom Has Alzheimer’s

May 10, 2014

Five years ago my mom was diagnosed with memory loss that pointed to the beginning of Alzheimer’s. The doctor started her on medicine to slow its progression and gave us advice. This disease has no cure even though research is improving the lives of those diagnosed with it. There is not even a definitive diagnosis. My mom is now suffering from severe memory loss and the ability to function on a daily basis without constant care and attention. She still recognizes her children and grandchildren and even her closest lifelong friends. I know this will continue to change for I have seen the pattern of this terrible disease and the way it slowly shuts down vibrant, wonderful lives of people I have loved.

I often ask God to show me His will in all of this, to heal my mom and help us cope with this daily loss of our mom and my dad’s wife of 63 years. I even argue with God and have even been angry with our Creator for allowing this disease in our lives; and I have asked God to take my mom onto Heaven now rather than let her continue to suffer. God has responded with some answers, much grace and strength. Alzheimer’s has taught me to value every day and every memory and to realize life is still a mystery. I know my mom still loves us and I have even witnessed her grief of knowing she is loosing control and the power to remember.

So I will seek to remember and be thankful for her and all that God has given me through her. I wrote this message to my church this week as we celebrate Mother’s Day and thank God for ALL the women who have nurtured and loved us along our life journeys.


Greetings Church Family,As we move toward Mothers Day, I am thinking of my mom and how much she loved her three sons. I am who I am today because of the love, sacrifices, encouragement and discipline that my parents gave me. They invested in our lives their time and resources. On Saturdays, they were at my ball games cheering me on even in the summer heat. On Sunday mornings, they got us ready for church, took us to Sunday School and taught us by example that prayer, service and generous giving was the way of Christ-followers.I can still see my mom at the organ playing the hymns and singing along with the choir. She loved hymns and passed this love for church music onto me. I often went with her to weddings, funerals and Sunday night worship. I would sit right behind her in the choir loft where I would watch the services. Little did I know that our Lord was using these times to shape my call to ministry and grow in me a love for preaching the Word and leading worship.She said she knew God had called me to His work when I was very young. She saw it in my sensitivity for children, my concern for the poor and my zeal for Bible study and sharing my faith. When I decided to stay in Georgia and be a pastor here, she grieved that I would not be closer to her. Yet she and dad swallowed hard and said they supported my decision. Several years ago she sat in the sanctuary at Snellville UMC where I was the preacher. I looked at her and she was smiling with pure joy as she observed the church full of people singing the praise of God. It would be the last time that she heard me preach.This Sunday will be a day of mixed emotions for me. I will miss my mom and wish she was here with me playing the organ and hearing her son preach. Yet I will also be full of joy for another reason. This Sunday my son, her grandson, will be commissioned as the new Youth Minister at St. James UMC in Athens, Georgia. She would be so proud and pleased. God is good…and his mercy endures from generation to generation. (Psalm 103: 17)

Pastor Richard

Sugar Hill United Methodist Church: Passion for Christ. Compassion for People.”