It would be a phenomenon that I would observe in many others places on these travels – Redding, Seattle, New York – but I saw experienced and saw it at work first at Hillsong Church Sydney. It was not new to me, but often it seems to make a real difference seeing things work in the flesh compared to reading about them in a book, or hearing them described in a seminar.
What I saw was simply this – Hillsong Church, like many others, is evangelizing and growing most effectively through a campus strategy. What I mean by this is that the church does not seek to grow one meeting in one place by trying to make that meeting serve all kinds of needs, and overcome all the multiplicity of cross-cultural mission issues that are commonly found in any cosmopolitan metropolis these days. Neither does the church just seek larger meeting places in order to accommodate more people. Certainly it can already accommodate thousands. But even a mega-church needs to keep advancing and growing in order to fulfill the great commission, and Hillsong does not look to do this through just seeking to attract more people to its current services. No, instead the church seeks to reach and serve as many people as possible by providing as many options as possible for as many people as possible to experience the presence of God in a church service, hear the Gospel, be included in a spiritual community, feel like they belong, engage, etc.
This is achieved through establishing fresh congregations or campuses. Depending on how you define your terminology, these refer to different times and locations of services. I tend to mean the following by these terms:
campus = a separate geographical venue or location for a church gathering
congregation = a particular group of people meeting at a specific time
Hillsong has been innovative and flexible with its strategy in these areas over the years. Obviously because it sees itself as a city church and thereby reaches out to a cosmopolitan area inhabited by multiple millions, there are many differences between the manner in which this church goes about things and the way in which we might do things as a church on a rock inhabited by 65,000 people. There would still be marked differences if we were comparing it to a city of perhaps 500,000. Nevertheless there are, I believe, fundamental principles at work which can speak to us in Guernsey and indeed into every situation if we are teachable and wise.
Most days I spent meeting a pastor or leader responsible for a particular area of ministry, training or pastoral oversight. Some had been in leadership, indeed in membership at Hillsong Church for only a few years, others virtually since the beginning in the early 1980s. There was nevertheless a clear picture which emerged from my conversations with each of them. I was seeking answers to the questions I had formulated long before I set out on this time away, and we spent time at each meeting talking through some of these issues. (See blog entry Tempus Fugit for details of these questions.)
There are two specific strategies which seemed to help answer my questions at Hillsong. As my time spent there developed the Lord seemed to anoint both of these phenomena particularly in my thinking so that I would say they both became a revelation to me of God speaking directly to my heart for revival and church growth. I will talk about the second of these in the next post. Here I will cover the campus strategy. Certainly this strategy at Hillsong impinges upon the first three of my questions. Right from the very start, it was seemingly in Hillsong’s DNA to establish campuses in order to reach people who would otherwise struggle to come regularly to church or feel part of a community, and catch them up in the vision and mission of the church. A campus in this sense is not an independent church, although it may look different on the surface in size and make-up. It is one in mission. As mentioned in a previous post, the Hills
Christian Life Centre (as Hillsong was originally called) was established in the Northern Suburbs of the city by Sydney Christian Life Centre (SCLC – now the city campus of Hillsong Church) largely because there was a massive suburban housing development taking place in the late 70s and 80s; in order to reach the many thousands of people moving into these new towns and estates, the leaders of SCLC at the time realized they needed to establish a presence right there in the centre of things. You don’t have to get terribly spiritual to think through this, although it is clearly what happened in the days of the early church, as you discover in the book of Acts – when people moved out of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas, even when the reason was persecution, they took the Gospel and therefore the Church with them. Other expressions of human community and activity also establish and reestablish and develop themselves in this way, e.g. schools, sports clubs, societies, associations, super-markets, banks, shopping malls, even offices, work-places and government agencies.
Certainly there are some people who are willing to travel or drive (if they can afford to) through miles of suburban traffic and past many alternatives in order to get their child to the right school. However for the vast majority this is not a viable option. As a result, schools, clubs, shops, etc. get established near where people live and work because these institutions are people-focused, community-dependent, and empower people to make the choice to use them. The church of Jesus is God-focused and therefore also people focused and people-empowering, because God so loved the world He did not wait for the world to come to Him (we could not!) He took the initiative and came to us. And wherever the church of Jesus exists it should empower people to experience God – it should give those who currently do not or cannot experience the presence of God and the family of God the opportunity of choosing to do so. The church is a community within the community, a city within the city, for the glory of God and extension of His Kingdom.
Jesus modelled this principle by going from village to village and town to town preaching the message of the Kingdom of Heaven; he did not expect everyone to come to Nazareth Community Church! In fact more than that, he trained and appointed the Twelve also to go about preaching the Good News into more regions beyond. So I’m saying there is a pattern to follow here based on a missional principle. You can even discover in the New Testament what happens when this is not the focus of attention – it took persecution and the raising up of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch to refocus Christians on the as yet unreached – to get on with the very last instructions of the Lord here on earth – Matt 28; the Jerusalem church and leadership seemed somewhat caught up in their own little ‘Jewish world’ to begin with. We must remember that the ‘ends of the earth’ start at the ends of our streets!
As a local church Hillsong has established multiple campuses and congregations in the city (even now into Brisbane which is nearly 1000km/600 miles away). It is true that its City and Brisbane campuses are effectively adoptions of existing churches, but the principle remains. Additionally Hillsong has over a dozen other campuses meeting in school halls and other rented buildings each weekend. Hillsong Church does not call these campuses – although they fit my definition – instead these are referred to as extension services and are aimed at local communities of various ethnic, national, cultural or language backgrounds. These communities often link with either the Hills Campus or City Campus for Sunday evening services (which are not duplicates of the Sunday morning services).
The advantage of a campus philosophy is that in this way resources and can be shared and you are not so dependent on raising up all the additional infrastructure you need to make church happen in each location. Key ministries can be shared, training can be shared, funding can be shared, there is better stewardship, things can be done in bulk, there are more opportunities to serve, be an apprentice, strengths can be shared and weaknesses covered more easily. Hillsong have developed these strengths in every area and continue to do so. By using common ministry models in a manner which might be described in the world of commerce as branding they create a larger net to work with, eg. their women’s ministry – Sisterhood and its annual Colour Conference, their various children and youth ministries – Hillsong Kids (primary school age), Fuel (school years 7-9), Wildlife (years 10-12), Powerhouse (ages 18-25), Frontline (25-35), can all be resources and developed centrally, hold joint camps, events and training; a small success can be celebrated and enjoyed by all, creative excellence can be achieved, a broader group of people are reached, and costs are kept to a minimum, particularly in areas such as children’s curriculum development, and event promotion.
Although it may not be visible unless you search hard and deliberately for it, much is made of the use of technology, especially information on databases, communication using IT, and a standardized method of integration and follow-up of all newcomers. I was given a glimpse into how this works and I must say it looks excellent, especially from a pastoral perspective, and especially too for the purpose of minimising communication and information failures as the church grows. It is inappropriate to go into great detail here; suffice to say that there is a clear understanding of how membership is expressed – not by a signing on the dotted line attitude, nor by having completed a course, certainly not by giving a tithe, although none of these things are despised in themselves. Rather, the pastors and key leaders see membership expressed in various degrees from simply regularly attending a worship service, belonging to a Connect Group (home groups which meet fortnightly), or serving in a ministry area, and then right the way through to becoming a pastor or key leader. This flexible, grace-focused paradigm helps the leadership “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” as they watch over the growing flock of God in accordance with the teaching of Paul in 2 Tim 4:2.