How a divine disappointment led us to save money and triple our growth
I will never forget the day the town said “no.” I thought it was the end, but it was actually just the beginning. We had experienced a season of growth at Seacoast and felt it was time to build. We were conducting five services on the weekend and had purchased additional acreage for a 4,000-seat expansion. We had been in discussions with the city for about a year, and things seemed to be progressing well. At the last minute we were caught in a “not in my backyard” backlash which resulted in a no vote from the town council, making it impossible to build.
To say I was disappointed by this turn of events was an understatement. The prospect of continuing five services or adding more seemed overwhelming. We were already beginning to plant churches, but that didn’t address our current capacity issues.
So I did what I always do when discouragement sets in. I shut the blinds to my office and turned on some country music. In that genre, singers are always losing something—a horse, a dog, a girlfriend or a truck. I wanted to listen to someone who understood my loss. I wasn’t ready to move on yet. Later, a church member helped me with my flawed theology.
“Pastor, it’s OK to sit on the pity potty,” she said. “As long as you don’t sit there long enough to get ring-around-the-hiney.”
That sounded about right. So I sat in my pity for a while. Then I remembered: There are no surprises to God. He has never had a day when He said, “Wow, I never saw that one coming.” So if He didn’t share my surprise by the turn of events that day, it’s probably because He had been working on a solution—before I even knew there was a problem. So we bandaged our wounds, rolled up our sleeves and went to work finding out where He was leading us next.
We settled on multisite services as the best possible solution to our situation. We knew that adding more services at off-peak hours had inherent problems. The further we moved the service from the “golden hour” of 11 a.m. to noon on Sunday, the less likely people were to attend. What if we were able to add extra services at the optimum time? The only way to do that was to meet offsite. Ultimately, we added 30 more services in 13 additional locations.
How much did it cost? A lot less that a 4,000-seat auditorium. We used the phrase “high impact, low regret” to guide us in the process. We wanted the highest impact for the kingdom with the lowest potential for financial regret.
We also tried to define what was necessary and what was merely helpful. If you confuse these two categories you can focus on the wrong things and find yourself regretting your decision in the long run. In life, for instance, food, water and air are essential, while Guitar Hero and iPads are just helpful. If you mix up the categories, you’ll wind up in a world of hurt.
In launching multisite services, a good location, the right leader and the leading of the Holy Spirit are necessary, while high-definition video, a live stream and lots of low end in the sound system are only helpful.
We still haven’t added most of the helpful stuff, and we never built the 4,000-seat auditorium. But we have more than tripled the number of people we minister to weekly, and we’re able to do it with very few regrets.
Greg Surratt is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., one of the early adopters of the multisite model. Greg is a founding board member of the Association of Related Churches and is married, with four children and seven grandchildren.
Pastor Chip Sweney tells the inspiring story of one church that looked beyond its own growth limitations to create “a new kind of big”—a citywide network of almost 150 churches that today work together to meet the needs of their community and change their city.
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