By Kenny Stokes
April 15, 2003
Almost a year ago, the Bethlehem elders sought to strategically manage our growth by embracing the “Going without Going” multi-site vision. That should not be viewed as a step in opposition to church planting. We are strongly committed to planting new churches. However, we have come to believe that church planting alone will not adequately solve the lack of space and insufficient seating problems of the downtown site. Some of our friends such as Leith Anderson of Wooddale Church tell us that generally speaking healthy churches that plant churches outgrow any loss of attendance caused by a church plant fairly quickly. So while we are committed to planting churches we believe we also must develop strategies to manage our growth in ways that keep us true to our God-given mission: to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples though Jesus Christ.
In July of 2003, the Bethlehem elders, believing that inaction was not an option in the face of growing worship service attendance, endorsed a plan for the north extension site. Quoting from John Piper’s July 2003 STAR article entitled, “‘GROWING WITHOUT GROWING’ HAS BECOME ‘GOING WITHOUT GOING’: Bethlehem in Two Locations This Fall”
Why do I love the elders of Bethlehem? For starters, consider our meeting on Monday July I. No air conditioning. Windows open. Fans buzzing. Four hours of intense discussion and prayer. Conclusion: new vision, deep joy and heart-felt unity. Sixteen elders, expressing themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 (I = terrible idea; 10' great, God-given idea and I am excited about it) voted unanimously to move ahead, the average number being 9.4.
Here is what we decided to pursue this fall. The plan is that, beginning on October 13, Bethlehem Baptist Church will worship on Sunday mornings in two different places, This is one of the most far-reaching changes in the history of this church. We will have two services in our usual location downtown al 830 and 1030 am, and two services the same times at the North Extension to be held, God willing, in Maranatha Hall of Northwestern College.
The Elder Council agreed to evaluate the extension site in Roseville after a trial period of 6 months. Thus in March of 2003 we initiated an all-church questionnaire, and staff interviews to gather the input of the broader church. This paper takes into account that information and makes recommendations for future actions steps.
In humility before the LORD we present this paper to the elders for serious prayer, biblical reflection and candid discussion and evaluation of the multi-site vision. May God generously answer our prayers for wisdom without reproach (James 1:5) and may he grant that we may be like the men of Issachar “…who understood the times and knew what Israel should do….” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
II. Is it Biblical to grow?
Before our evaluation, it seems fitting to look to the scriptures on the issue of growth. Is it biblical to grow? At times it can seem that at Bethlehem there is a broad sense of loathing when it comes to mega-churches. By definition, a mega church is a church with worship attendance over 1,000 (hence the word ‘mega’). The reality is that Bethlehem, whether we like it or not, has been a ‘mega’ church for several years.
Is it biblical to be a mega-church? The New Testament does not prescribe the size of an ideal church. But if we stop and think about the question of ministry size, the New Testament does record the public ministry of Jesus to large crowds:
- When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick…. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:14 & 21 NAS95).
- And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 15:38, NAS95).
- He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. (Mark 4:1, NAS95).
- When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34, NAS95).
- Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1, NAS95).
We cannot say that it is unbiblical to minister the word of God to large crowds. Taking it one step further, the New Testament records the amazing growth of both the church both in Jerusalem and in Antioch.
- So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41, NAS95).
- But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. (Acts 4:4, NAS95).
- And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, (Acts 5:14, NAS95).
- The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7, NAS95).
- …And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord…. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:21, 24-26, NAS95).
So the New Testament records growth by the thousands in one day in Jerusalem and in large numbers in Antioch. Clearly not all of the local churches of the New Testament experienced the grace and responsibility of that kind of rapid growth. But at least two did. Again we would do well to recall Pastor Leith Anderson’s counsel to us when he admonished the BBC elders with these very Bethlehem-like words, “God is sovereign over your growth. You cannot cap your growth.”
One more biblical preliminary that seems needful. The gospel is good news to be spread to all peoples in all places:
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NAS95).
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9:31, NAS95).
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NAS95).
…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NAS95).
21b … Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ (Luke 14:21b-22, NAS95).
May we praise God for the growth of the church, and spreading of the gospel. Too often we hear comments resenting the fact that so many people are coming to Bethlehem. How can a man complain that others are coming to enjoy GOD at Bethlehem along side of him? In the best light, the grumbling relates to the complications of growth; in the worst light, it is the sin of selfishness. Enjoyment of Christ is to be spread to others, both near and far.
While growth at Bethlehem creates very real pastoral care and ministry responsibilities, we ought not begrudge the Lord’s grace upon us. We have not always grown and probably will not always grow. Let us be thankful to GOD for the growth He is presently giving.
Surely we can agree that the spreading of the gospel is good. And that large numbers coming to hear the clear preaching of the word is good. And that a growing number of people meeting GOD in worship is good. Granted the large numbers at Bethlehem demand responsible discipleship and task the elders with a big shepherding task. But we believe this growth we are being granted is good.
God is sovereign over our growth. Our responsibility as Elders is to responsibly shepherd and manage the growth the Lord gives. Or to put it another way, the question before us is not a question of ‘If we are a mega-church” but of “What kind of megachurch are we going to be?”
The elders’ decision to embark on a multi-site church vision in July of 2002 was a decision to be a different kind of mega-church.
III. Evaluation: Extension Site Vision and Ten Stated Aims
Under the overall vision of “One-Church on Two Sites Spreading a Passion for the Supremacy of God…”, our stated aims were put before the congregation in the BBC Star, July 2002. For the purposes of evaluation, below we consider those aims in form of a question:
- Are we more effectively spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ with all the implications of that mission? Yes, we believe in many ways we have increased our effectiveness in spreading a passion for GOD and all its mission implications.
- a) YES: Attendance has increased 18 % in the October 2002 to March 2003 time frame when compared to the same time last year.
- b) YES: Giving has increased 12% in the January 2003 to March 2003 time frame when compared to the same time last year.
- c) YES: The north extension has the same preaching, leadership and vision as the downtown campus.
- d) However, with the increasing size we are all the more aware of our need to establish a member care system to organize our watch-care over all the flock (Acts 20:28).
- Did we remove the limits on folding new believers into the church?
- a) YES: The number of new members from October 2002 to the present is 145, which is a 16% increase from the previous year. Colette Frazier reports, “The largest bulges came from this past Covenant Affirmation on March 30, 2003 (52). February 23, 2003 (69) and February 24, 2003 (66)…. Our two January ASK classes (2003) had about 90 people combined. Other covenant Affirmations average about 24 people.”
- b) YES: Parking problems were eased for 87% of those attending the north extension and 67% of those attending the downtown campus (Q25).
- c) However, while our downtown crowding eased during late 2002, in the winter of 2003 it was clear that downtown crowding had returned at least in some measure.
- Were we freed from the constraints of having to build larger sanctuaries?
- a) YES: Our seating capacity increased from approximately 3,300 seats in three services downtown to approximately 5,000 seats in the two simultaneous worship services on the two sites.
- b) YES: The rental arrangement with Northwestern College allowed us to increase capacity without building a larger multi-million dollar sanctuary and did not compromise our debt free commitment to Education for Exultation.
- Were we freed from having to multiply staff-exhausting worship services in one location?
- a) YES: We actually grew 18% in average attendance (426 people) while decreasing by 1/3 the number of sermons actually preached.
- b) YES: Likewise we decreased the worship service load on the Minister for Music from 3 services to 2.
- c) YES: We hired Dan Holst half time to lead the two worship services on the second site.
- d) However, the extension site did add the stress of weekly set-up/take-down for those ministering on the north extension site. And there was some stress added to the staff by our aiming to minister on two sites instead of just one (choirs, ministry hall, etc).
- Did we improve the ease of access for hundreds of our "north" people who can now more naturally invite neighbors to go with them to (the nearby!) church?
- a) YES: We moved the Bethlehem worship event closer to home for hundreds of our people (Q6).
- b) However, while we placed Christmas invitations in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, we could have done more to intentionally equip our people for outreach through the north extension.
- c) However, the uncertainty of how long we would be at NWC might have hurt our impact and presence in Roseville.
- Did we raise up and equip more lay-leaders for ministry?
- a) YES: According to the all-church questionnaire, 25% of those attending the north extension report a new ministry role created by the multi-site vision. Of those attending the downtown site only 8% reported a new ministry role (Q17).
- b) However, that number would have likely increased more on both sites if it were not for canceling Sunday school because of Education for Exultation construction.
- Did we work for racial harmony in more than one place?
- a) YES: We did in some ways that were probably rare in the Roseville area: Racial Harmony Sunday and sermon, Every Tribe and Tongue Choir leading worship and the measure of diversity our pastoral staff represents.
- b) However, while some minorities attend the north extension, we would long to see many more and need to strategize accordingly, even as we strategize toward racial diversity at the downtown site.
- Did we make more time for creative relationships and small groups since there is no Sunday School on Sunday morning this next year?
- a) YES: While this aim related more to the cancellation of Sunday school this year, the multi-site worship did allow for a 45-minute gap between the first and second service.
- b) However, how effectively that gap was used is difficult to measure.
- Did we broaden the base of missionary sending?
- a) YES: If a broader base is measured by a larger sending body, more geographically dispursed, then we have broadened our base.
- b) YES: By the grace of GOD we pray that the increasing numbers of college students attending Bethlehem might all the more be called and sent out to the neighborhoods and the nations for the sake the Name of Christ.
- c) However, it is too soon to know what the LORD may be doing among us today in calling people to go to the nations tomorrow.
- Did we take a risk for Christ's sake and trust the mercy and power of God?
- a) YES: We took all-church risks by faith, trusting that God “…would equip us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:21, NAS95). God gave us John Gyovai our Media Tech before we knew we needed him. God gave us grace to pull together the needed people and resources in a relatively short period of time for the October 2002 launch of the north extension. God gave us just the right amount of money in excess of the 2002 expenses to cover the costs of audio-visual video equipment for the downtown site and the extension site with out incurring any debt. God has once again proven to us that he “…is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV).
- b) YES: We took risks not knowing if our people would accept the use of video to link the sermon to a second site. According to the all-church questionnaire 92% of those attending north, and 94% of those attending downtown report that God strengthens their faith through the sermon on most Sundays (Q19). Again the questionnaire reports that 87% of the north respondents and 80% of the downtown respondents believe we should continue broadcasting the sermons via video to a second site (Q20).
- c) YES: We took a risk in establishing two worship leadership teams. According to the all-church questionnaire 92% of those attending north, and 90% of those attending downtown report that God meets them in worship most Sundays (Q18). Praise GOD!!!
- d) YES: We took the risk of not knowing if our people would simply reject the video and drive to the site of the live preacher each week. And according to the allchurch questionnaire only 2% of the north attenders and 1% of those attending downtown say they seek to avoid the video-simulcast (Q9).
IV. Financial Data
Many questions and inferences have come up regarding the costs related to the extension site. Here are some of the basic financial facts:
Oct. 13 –
Jan. 5 –
2003 North Site
Worship Space Rental
Staff Ministry Expense
Staff Edu / Conf Expense
North Extension Expenses
Nursery Equip & Supplies
Telephone & Pager Expense
Worship Supplies Expense
Musical Instruments Expense
Office Supplies Expense
- 2003 North Site budget less compensation is $225,000. $48,000 in compensation was added for this exercise. Normally this amount would be included in Staff Compensation & Benefits.
- Kenny Stokes, Chuck Steddom, Sarah Porter, Jesse Harms, John Gyovai, John Piper & others have devoted, and some continue to devote, time to the North Site. Although their costs are reflected in Staff Compensation & Benefits, they are real costs of doing this ministry and need to be taken into consideration. Their expenses are not reflected in this spreadsheet.
- The total Bethlehem budget for 2003 is $4,259,574. Therefore the north extension portion of the 2003 budget represents 6.4% of the budget (excluding the costs mentioned in [b] above.
In summary, the questionnaire indicates equal participation of 60% from both sites in Education for Exultation pledges (Q16). The more the north extension vision develops that may begin to drop off. We would do well to remind our people on both sites of the joint benefits of the E for E building. Praise God that 35% of our weekly contributions came in through the north extension offering plates. That is slightly below the 40% we might have expected based on the average attendance at the north extension. One factor contributing to the lower percentage might be the greater numbers of college students at the north extension. That the north extension as presently arranged is 6.4% of the 2003 budgeted expenses (including site specific staff) seems, in our opinion to be a good use of funds to support 40% of our people in Sunday morning worship.
V. Action Recommendations to the Elders
By the grace of GOD and in the power of the Holy Spirit, with much prayer we recommend the following action steps.
- NWC Lease: That the elders immediately pursue a 6-month extension of our lease at Northwestern College (with a 4 week bail-out clause). This will secure the use of Maranatha Hall for up to 6 additional months while we seek a north campus site. (Motion to be made 4-15-03). Assign: Kenny Stokes
- Multi-Site Vision: That Bethlehem’s multi-site vision be drafted, sharpened and adopted by the elders by the end of May of 2003. Include time frames when possible. Answer all key questions raised in the questionnaire. Assign: Kenny Stokes/John Piper?
- North Campus Plan: That the elders commission a north campus plan be drafted and presented to the elders by the end of June of 2003. The campus could either be rented or purchased (or received as a gracious providential gift!). The campus would give us the benefit of 7-day/wk-ministry space. Any plan should include a feasibility study showing a cost/benefit analysis when contrasted with a single site church vision. Assign: Kenny Stokes. We recommend:
- a) That the plan include a specific site recommendation that takes into account our anticipated worship, Sunday school and ministry needs.
- b) That the plan include a goal of launching Sunday School and Youth Ministry at the north extension in the fall of 2003
- c) That the plan includes a staffing plan to ensure adequate staffing on both sites (children’s, youth, worship, custodial, etc.).
- d) That the plan include all known start up costs such as sound system, a/v equipment, chairs, custodial equipment, build-out costs, etc.
- e) That the plan include a congregational approval process for off-budget expenses.
- South Campus Study: That the elders commission a feasibility study for a south site for a Fall 2004 launch to be presented by the end of September of 2003. Assign: Kenny Stokes
- Multi-Site Ministry Mobilization: That the staff draft plans and strategies to extend each particular ministry department through the multi-site vision. Assign: Kenny Stokes/ Sam Crabtree?
- Long-Range Downtown Site Plan: That a long-range site plan for the downtown campus be developed encompassing any potential development of the properties along 7th Street. If the plan includes sanctuary expansion it will have implications on the multi-site vision. Assign: Sub-committee or task force