Empowering Evangelism Volunteers: Keeping The Mission Simple
by: Ronald E. Keener
Chris Hodges started Church of the Highlands eight years ago in Birmingham, Ala., with 34 people he came to know through pastors and other people who wanted to help launch a church.
“Four hundred people came to the first service, which grew to five services there and an additional five in video venues,” the 45-year-old pastor said.
In July, 2007, the church moved into its own, permanent facility. He spoke with Church Executive about his young ministry:
I’m told you have 2,000 volunteers who serve on what is called the “Dream Team.” I take it you are a proponent of laity being involved in ministry.
We started the original launch team with 34 people. I called it the “Dream Team.” I have a business degree so I learned in business school that the secret to getting people to work with you and finding great leaders to work with you was to allow them to be a part of the process—not just to do what you want them to do—and to challenge the process and to have ideas as well.
So from the very beginning I didn’t want to come in saying, “This is my dream; come help me fulfill it.” But I wanted them to share the dream with me. I was convinced that some of the best ideas for our new church would come out of the people who God put around me, not just me.
From the very beginning our launch team meetings took the form of starting every meeting with a question: What do you think we should do to reach children, to have dynamic worship, and so forth? So I had their involvement from the very beginning.
One of the critical components is to celebrate your victories and celebrate the contributions of people. We had this huge party that we would do for the Dream Teamers every Christmas. We had this catered meal and gave them gifts and had video tributes to them. We had people calling the next day almost upset and wanting to know why they weren’t invited to the party.
Somehow we had this reverse motivation—instead of me trying to convince people to come serve, we had them begging to be on our Dream Team because they wanted to be a part of something that was successful.
What’s been the importance of that to the church?
Today we have 2,195 people on the Dream Team serving in all kinds of areas, which has allowed us to keep our salaries low. We have never had the salaries of our church exceed 23 percent of our budget, which has allowed us to put our monies toward ministry.
We have probably 14,000 members with 70 people (a ratio of 200:1) on staff. That’s a very small staff for that size church. We even go a step further and really have put it into the heart of every staff member that their main role is not even to do their job, it’s to raise up leaders and volunteers to be a part of what we’re doing.
I am told you like to keep things simple. What’s an example of keeping things simple?
It’s in what we don’t do. We do four things and four things only. They are the four elements of the Great Commission.
To start with, we use our weekend services primarily as a way to reach people, and so they are very formatted and geared toward presenting the gospel to people in life-giving ways.
The second thing is that we pastor people. That’s where people are mentored, trained, discipled, loved and cared for—those types of things.
Thirdly, we have a very intentional and clearly defined growth track. Basically it is a four-step process for people to be trained, or at least start the training process, with an emphasis on discovering their uniqueness. So they are able to train in the areas that fit the design that God has for their life.
Lastly we have the Dream Team, a way for people to serve in some way to make a difference, so that we are all not just spectators but we are participating in some way in making a difference.
You have a simple way of budgeting too?
We wrote it into the bylaws of our church that a budget of Church of the Highlands would be 90 percent of the previous year’s income. Even in a church that’s growing as fast as we are, that has created huge margins. That means I’m under no pressure, which means the people aren’t under any pressure.
Last year’s income was $16 million, so 2009’s budget was 90 percent of that. So your income is always greater than your budget?
Our budgeting system creates margins that allowed us to do this facility without doing any type of fundraising or capital campaign, nothing, permitting us to say “yes” to new opportunities that came along. We were able to pay cash for two buildings downtown that we bought, which we’re going to turn into the Birmingham Dream Center.
You have been known for modeling generosity in all that the church does. Someone said of you, “Everything is a giveaway.” Do you like the term?
I love the term. Growing up in church it never made sense to me that I tithed and gave offerings to support my local church, but then I’d go into the foyer where there were CDs of the service that were recorded by the money I gave, and they were charging me again for it. I felt like those were mine.
So when we started this church, I thought we weren’t going to charge the church for the stuff with the money that the church gave. From the very first day of our church, I’d say, “All of the CDs, everything out there in the foyer is free. We bought it with the money you gave.”
We give away T-shirts and more than 5,000 cups of coffee every Sunday. It is all based off 2 Corinthians 8:7; the Bible says: “As you excel in everything, make sure you also excel in the grace of giving.”
I also think the church ought to tithe, so the first 10 percent of our income is given away, not just to our missions budget but the first 10 percent of everything that we are given we give away. It’s produced a huge spirit of generosity in our church.
Five Key Points I Wish To Point Out
By Tim Massengale
1. “The secret to getting people to work with you and finding great leaders to work with you was to allow them to be a part of the process—not just to do what you want them to do—and to challenge the process and to have ideas as well. I was convinced that some of the best ideas for our new church would come out of the people who God put around me, not just me.” (This is the purpose and plan of the Annual Planning Retreat. Remember, this is primarily a brainstorming session, not a calendarizing session.)
2. “One of the critical components is to celebrate your victories and celebrate the contributions of people.” (This is one of the key purposes of the Monthly Planning Council – to build a strong team. Each month you are celebrating successes and planning the next step of our growth).
3. “Somehow we had this reverse motivation—instead of me trying to convince people to come serve, we had them begging to be on our Dream Team because they wanted to be a part of something that was successful. Today we have 2,195 people on the Dream Team serving in all kinds of areas.” (As the excitement of your church growth plan catches hold, you will soon be talking about the plans and success of your various ministries. Encourage all to be involved somewhere doing something.)
4. “We even go a step further and really have put it into the heart of every staff member that their main role is not even to do their job, it’s to raise up leaders and volunteers to be a part of what we’re doing.” (This is the key to a high degree of involvement. Motivate your ministry leaders to reach out to the congregation, to encourage church members to join their various ministry teams. So it’s not just YOU pushing for involvement, it’s all the leaders encouraging people to be involved.)
5. (1) We see our weekend services primarily as a way to reach people. (2) We pastor people. That’s where people are mentored, trained, discipled, loved and cared for. (3) A four-step process for people to be trained, with an emphasis on discovering their uniqueness (ministry gifts). (4) Lastly we have the Dream Team, a way for people to serve in some way to make a difference, so that we are all not just spectators but we are participating in some way in making a difference. (Your best outreach method – your church services and following up on your visitors. Emphasize new convert care and discipling people into the faith. Train your members for evangelism ministry involvement. Help them find their place. Encourage 100% involvement.)
Edited and excerpted with permission, April, 2009. Power Trade Media 2009.