How Networks Are Transforming Cities
Published on 4/24/2012
by Warren Bird
Something unusual is happening to senior pastors in Gurnee, Illinois.
Several years ago, Pastor Scott Chapman of The Chapel, Grayslake, IL, formed a senior pastor network in the Lake County, IL, area, and since then, has seen every senior pastor in the city of Gurnee come together to develop relationships with each other, mobilize their congregations to take action together and initiate plans to transform their city.
“What we are seeing happen is the result of a significant investment of time and energy by all the senior pastors in Gurnee,” Scott says. “They have built real friendships with one another, and led their churches into doing collaborative acts of service for their community.
“Not only do they genuinely love and trust one another, they have experienced firsthand the potential of what the Church can accomplish together.”
Above: Senior pastors connecting at a city-wide gathering in Gurnee, IL.
Early efforts in Gurnee laid the foundation for the Go! Project—the name the leaders have given their initiative to share God’s love in practical ways with every single household in the city of Gurnee over the next three to five years. Currently, the churches are inviting their collective membership to participate in neighborhood-specific groups, which in turn are praying together and helping each other to relationally reach out to increase the love of Christ with those around them.
“Their hope is to help their people both live and share the gospel within the natural rhythm of their everyday lives,” Scott says. “Though only in its pilot phase, many of the pastors in Gurnee would affirm this project has already served to envision and re-invigorate their elders, staff and lay leaders around the mission of God.”
Thirty Other Cities
The idea is catching fire elsewhere, and Chapman has helped launch similar other church networks are exploring similar ideas in as many as 30 other U.S. cities—with two driving forces behind the movement.
“The first is simply the idea of the broader Church, united together around the mission of communicating and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus Christ to every man, woman and child in their geography,” Scott says. “The instant people hear about it, they seem to recognize it not only as a good biblical principle, but a beautiful and effective way to see the Kingdom of God increase in their community.”
The second source of fuel for the fire is relationships, Scott says. Many new networks are started as a result of pastors who experience this type of collaborative effort, then pass the word to pastor friends in other cities. Recently for instance, pastors Dan Weyerhaeuser and Chris Stephens traveled from Gurnee to Philadelphia, PA, to share what God is doing with a group of pastors there.
“Seeing what is happening elsewhere provides the faith needed to start a work in a new place,” Scott says. “When God is genuinely moving, word travels fast.”
Scott’s 7,000-attendance church is also utilizing its multisite platform to help form senior pastor networks. The Chapel has asked all eight of its campus pastors to find ten pastors in their zip code that they can bless and help to thrive. In these “Christ Together” gatherings every few months, the pastors meet to pray for revival, to deepen their relationships with one another and to discuss what their churches can do together to increase the Kingdom of God in their community (below).
In some urban areas of Virginia, the Christ Together groups are serving as the catalyst for churches to collectively rally around a particular city block overrun by gang violence, help a church among them that is in crisis, or minister to a select group of people with an acute physical need.
“We have discovered that personal relationships are the muscles that move the Body of Christ forward,” Scott says. “These gatherings are often the soil in which our best ideas, initiatives and collaborative efforts spring forth.
“As local pastors grow to love, trust and even depend on one another, they start to experience the full potential of the Church moving together.”
All of this collaborative activity in 30-plus cities is the culmination of a deeper burden for lost people that God put on Scott’s heart a few years ago—and the realization that The Chapel couldn’t accomplish the monumental task of reaching the community alone.
“That was an enormous wake-up call,” Scott says. “It put unction and urgency to reach out to people while they live. It made me realize we needed others to bring the whole gospel to the whole area. It pushed us outward into the community in 100 different ways. Now my mind can’t stop thinking about how the church can be better catalyzed in getting outside of our walls.”
And Scott certainly isn’t alone. He notes that most of his conversations with other pastors these days have shifted from growth and church mechanics to “learning what it means to be transformed by God, which then pushes us to greater commitment and takes us beyond our doors,” Scott adds. “I’m having those conversations a lot these days, asking if we’re capturing the New Testament edge or if we’re still just chasing it.”
Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, is a former pastor and seminary professor, and is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders, the most recent one with Jim Tomberlin: Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird.
Recommended Book: To Transform a City: Whole Church, Whole Gospel, Whole City by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams