Nearly two years to the day of our launch into multisite ministry, my husband and I found ourselves with heads bowed, peering over a small four-by-three-inch black and white printout of our 8-week ultrasound. As we peered at this little bean-shaped person in a black box, looking quite unremarkably like every other 8-week old, my husband said quietly, “I wonder who they are going to be?” I smiled at his thoughtfulness and as I pondered his question, about this new life, about all that we didn’t know, I thought again about my congregation. Before we launched our second campus, through that first year and even now into our third year, I often find myself asking the same thing of my congregation: “I wonder who they are going to be?”
I started at Geist Christian Church on the first of June in 2008, three short weeks after crossing the stage to accept my Masters of Divinity and two weeks after having been ordained into vocational ministry by my home congregation. Two months after my arrival at Geist, the church planned to launch its second location, officially becoming a multisite congregation: one church in two locations.
As the new pastor, I found myself asking two questions. There was the “who are they going to be?”query aimed at the congregation and staff I had already said “yes” to by accepting the call to Geist – and then there was the question of this new thing that was about to happen, that would change our congregation, our staff and our ministry. And, as it turns out, it would change my faith as well. The questions lived out over the first two years of multisite ministry would expand beyond asking who our congregation was going to be, and end up including who I was going to be as their minister.
Nothing in seminary or in any of the multisite books and conferences prepares you for how to set up chairs to accommodate 200 people while maintaining a worship environment that feels spacious but not empty (it’s an elusive yet refined art) or what to do when the brand-new building you just opened mysteriously smells like raw sewage, much to the confusion of every contractor and specialist in the city. No one can prepare you for what it feels like to meet 1,000 new people in your community the afternoon of your congregation’s open house or can help you figure out who is going to train eager volunteers on how to use the sound, light and camera equipment that has so many knobs and buttons it might as well be a space ship. I suppose even if the books, speakers and classes did teach these things it wouldn’t help much, because knowledge and preparation are a poor substitute for the amazing people in our midst.
All those resources can’t teach or prepare you for what it’s going to be like to watch a person who had worshiped quietly in the back pew of your church for years finally step up and take on a leadership role and then shine in that role. Or the way the church’s tech team might bond to become a motley crew of men and teenage guys who went from knowing nothing to being champion sound and light techs. Or the stories people tell about having watched the new site being built from the ground up and praying for our church before they even knew us so that their family might have a faith home that was in their neighborhood. Nothing can ready you for how stepping into a bold and crazy vision can push your prayer life to places you’ve never been and give you colleagues that you will come to call partners and friends.
When colleagues or other churches ask about doing multisite ministry, I could regurgitate the facts I have read in books about multisite that have worked or not worked for our congregation. The most frequent question I get asked is how our senior minister manages to drive between the two sites to preach on Sunday morning. All of that is interesting and valuable…but really, what I want to talk about is the people: these amazing people who have made God’s work possible in this place, who have grown in their relationship with Christ and with our community, who have shown up and – just by showing up and being who they are – have changed who we are as a church.
As I think about the adventure of being a multisite church and this newest adventure of being a mother, I am reminded of one of my favorite verses from Psalm 139: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I don’t know who this little one is going to be yet and I don’t know who my congregation is going to be yet. That is part of the mystery of God’s ongoing creation. But I know that it will be a deeply blessed journey to continue to ask who we are going to be together, as a church and as God’s people.
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