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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Interview with Church Planter Matt Payne

Today I interviewed Matt Payne of Church at Bethany in Portland, Oregon. Matt is 18 months into his first church plant and shares his story with us and gives some great insights. You can listen to the podcast using the player on the right. You can also download the mp3 file or read below.

Matt, Give me a super brief summary of who you are?
I grew up in a small town of under a 100 people in Southern Illinois. My Dad is a pastor he has been there for 42 years now. It's a small rural church. I grew up a preachers kids and went to Lincoln Christian College in Illinois. I met my soon to be wife there who was from Portland Oregon and I knew my senior year of college that I was going to be a church planter and knew I had a lot to learn. We pastored for about 6 years in Iowa and in 1999 decided to move to Oregon to start a new a church. We quit the jobs, moved on out, moved all our stuff and it was pretty cool. It took a while longer before I got open doors but we were out here for several years and then in 2006 launched the Church of Bethany.

How did you know God was calling you to plant a church?
Actually it was kinda weird. In my last semester of college I only needed 2 credits and all the classes were 3 credit classes and I didn't want to take the extra credit. They happened to have this week long intensive class that was exactly 2 credits and I thought hey I'll take it and it was on church planting. I grew up in Clay County Southern Illinois there are 15,000 people in the entire county and there were 14 Christian churches not counting Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist -- just our denomination. And I had only thought of church consolidation honestly and had never really thought much about church planting. And during that week my eyes were opened to what God was doing around the world. It just really resonated and I said you know, God has gifted me to do that some day.

How did you develop in that calling? How did you get trained?
At that time I had just started becoming aware of the church planting movement. The Churches of Christ, independent, were pretty prolific in church planting especially for the size of our group and I just started hanging out with them and going to conferences. When I was in Iowa I was familiar with the church planting group and just hung out with church planters anytime I could.

Did those church planters mentor you or was it more loose than that?
It was a loose thing until we moved out to Oregon and then I got very involved with the Northwest Christian Evangelistic Association. I was a part of a church that was just 6 months old and just had some experience going with the Northwest Church Planters group that is up in Vancouver Washington and we met every month and I just kinda hung out with them.

How did you launch the church?
We didn't have any connections out here in Oregon except from my father in-law and mother in-law. So we knew we wouldn't starve! So we moved out here and I started taking little jobs everywhere just to feed the family. I volunteered time with some new churches and visited some other churches and the big thing for me is that the culture in Southern Illinois and Portland Oregon is about as different as you can get. God knew I needed a lot of time to learn about the Northwest before I could ever go start a church here. And so that is a lot of what God is doing in those years. So we moved out in 1999 and launched in 2006 so there was a lot of years there.

Who are you connected with? What is the style of the church?
For a couple of years I was on staff at Our Place Christian Church which was started in 2001. I was the church planting associate. The core group I had initially came out of that church. It was some what of a staff position slash church planting intern position. But I am very connected with them. Also the Northwest Christian Evangelistic Association. They are one of our sponsoring organizations. Then a really unique partnership with Summerset Christian Church who are actually in the same community where we started a church and they are 37 years old. It is kinda a normal traditional congregation reaching a little older demographic. They welcomed us in, gave us an office. We are going to be meeting actually on Sunday nights in July and August in their building. So it's been a really unique partnership and they just really let us use the facility and they gave $21,000 to help us start.

Another thing post launch we've done is partnered up with the New Thing network. Which was started by Community Christian Church in Naperville , Illinois with Dave and John Ferguson. They went to the same college I did and they were a few years older but I got to really hangout with them and really have caught on to their vision of reproducing churches. So I receive coaching from them. I was just back in Chicago last week as we were dreaming of how we as a network could reproduce our network and try to reach a billion people around the world. I love hanging out with guys with such a huge vision for God and so that is a big affiliation right now.

What have been the highlights of starting a new church?
Seeing life change is definitely the biggest. Just to see a group of people who have this dream for a church to see what God has done through them. Especially through the ups and downs we've had some of those downs. But to see their faith increase. To see people who didn't know Christ before come to know him. That has just been a great great highlight. Probably the biggest thing to is seeing some people who don't know Christ coming to a new church and you know they have this preconceived notion of what a church is, especially in the Northwest, they think its all suits and pews and when they come in and they see the casual, we are in a school, they hear the messages that are very practical, and it's just neat to see their eyes open and go wow! I didn't know church could be like this!

What have been the lowest points?
We have had some staff turn over and that's been probably the most difficult thing. One was a financial decision that we had to make with our worship pastor and the other was on staff who I had to ask to leave and it is just the tough things that go along with that. Any time you have staff turn over it definitely creates some conflict and also a lot of concern and confusion. So you have to communicate and that's been pretty tough. Both had been friends for several years.

What would you do differently?
I spent a lot of time working with people but I neglected some of the systems that we didn't really have in place. I don't think I would have spent less time with people but I wish I had spent more time really concentrating on the systems of things. Especially as it was going because once we launched we had the basic systems but we didn't adapt once people actually started coming and things changed and we really kinda left the system there and it was pretty basic. I wish i had done that differently.

Give me a time frame, some numbers and dates from gathering the core in January 2006 until you launched?
In January 2006 we had probably about 25 people and that includes kids, of which we had 12 kids, so 50% of the group was kids back then. We just continued growing to the point where we had about 40 come march (including kids). We then launched 1 Community Group at that point and by September we had gone into 3 Community Groups. We did monthly preview services. Our first service was in July then we had one in August and one in September and then launched October 1st 2006. We had probably about 50 really core people but by the time we launched we had 150 which was pretty consistent for the first 9 months we kept at that number and dropped down a little bit until summer hit! Then the bottom fell out.

In Oregon particular it's when the sun comes out in the summer people just scatter. We didn't do a great job of getting everyone of those 150 connected in and so once the sun came out they left and never really came back. So we had times when we where running 40-50 last summer in a facility that has 200 theater seats. It really was a tough time. That was when one of the staff members left. It was a lot of "are we going to make it" questions that were being asked. We came back strong in the fall. Kinda made it through. We are running this summer somewhere between 85-95. It's a much tighter nit group with almost 95% in Community Groups. We are adjusting our schedule this summer to really make it so that you can go to the beach and you can go to the mountains for the weekend and still come back for church. We are really adapting. We'll see if it works.

We had 9 months of it going great. A honeymoon experience of just excitement and then there were a lot of different things. I blogged recently about some of the biggest surprises. I think for me spiritual warfare, I knew what I had read, that church planting is on the front lines of spiritual warfare. But didn't really know what that meant exactly. I kinda do now. We've just been hit physically. I broke my arm in June last year and did quite a bit of damage and had surgery and stuff. Then I was in a hit and run car accident. Someone hit me and so I just finished physical therapy which I had for several months. There has just been a lot of issues even within the core of people.The last 9 months has been one of a lot of difficulty and yet what has been interesting is that it solidified that group that has remained.

I feel like this summer is going to go better because we've weathered through the good and the bad and are more convinced that God wants us to do this. I've communicated to everyone that I am in this for the long haul. I am very confident and I think we have a good attitude right now as a church.

How did you initially draw that group of 150 for your previews and launch?
We did use direct mail. We sent 28,000 postcards. We did 3 postcards. We did one before each preview service. Our preview services basically had incremental growth. About 70 at the first preview, then about 90, then about 120 and then right at 150 for launch. We also did community activities. They have these concerts in the park and we came and passed out some things and served in that area. The local YMCA had a big family festival and we where there and helped out with that.

What is your philosophy for Community Groups?
That really is the biggest issue. They become such good friends that it is difficult to reproduce that. When we launched we had the expectation that said hey, you know we need 3 or 4 groups by the time we launch. And so everyone knew that. We had identified apprentice leaders to launch those groups. We did a lot of training beforehand on what it would be like. We actually even used the same curriculum for all the groups just so that we have some consistency. They all were basically following my messages and had a discuss on that. They weren't real in-depth. The purpose we told everyone was really to connect people. That worked really well at first.

After about probably a year they kinda came to us and said we want to go deeper. Like, we already know each other well and so at that point we allowed each group to explore different curriculum out there and that really spurred those groups on to grow more. One of them said we need a bible study and one of the guys has a seminary degree and I've known him for a while and so he is teaching straight through the book of Luke. We have another group full of young marrieds who said we need some curriculum on marriage. So each group kinda had it's own focus and that has been going well.

The issue lately for us, which we actually talked about on Sunday, is this summers purpose is not so much the study as it is really connecting with each other, but also inviting new people so that in the fall we will actually stop all our groups and relaunch new ones. The goal is that every group would reproduce and we have identified several people who are apprentices already, maybe we didn't give them that title, but that was the assumption and they are getting ready to do that in the fall.

We talk about, which comes out of the New Thing Network, being a reproducing church and so our goal is 25 campuses in 25 years. We say that's great, but it's way out there. Let focus first of all on reproducing at a smaller level and so the macro level will come but we have to learn how to reproduce our groups and then go from 1 service to 2 services and then once we are used to reproducing then it becomes a natural thing that you just reproduce campuses and churches.

How do you raise up leaders?
We currently are managed by our partners so on our management team is someone from Our Place Christian Church, Summerset and NWCA. We have a 2 year window now where we are beginning to identify some potential leaders and then we'll be meeting weekly in a small group discipleship format. We are still trying to tweak the curriculum and trying to figure out what's going to be best for us and we'll start it in the fall and give it a 2 year window to raise up our own elders from within the church. It's still kinda in flux at this point but it will start in the fall.

How do you manage your time?
I used to believe that you had to be balanced. And I almost viewed it as a daily thing. Like every day I'd go oh wow, I need to have a balanced day and I quickly found out that part of it was having grown up in the church world and seeing my Dad and now I try to view it more like a week by week, rather than a day by day balance. I remember reading that you need to spend 50% of your time out in the community as a church planter. I definitely think that is a minimum when you arepre -launch that you spend 75-80% of your time out in the community doing whatever it is.

Our target is business professionals and their families. And so I immediately joined the chamber of commerce and started doing chamber events and networking and really working in that area, so that was my outlet. Getting to know business leaders and government leaders and so that was what I did. Once you launch I don't think you can keep the 75-80% unless you are blessed to have multiple staff that can handle some of the more internal stuff and while I had some staff part time it wasn't enough I still had to spend quite a bit of time with the people that God was sending so I think that 50-50 is a little bit better opportunity post-launch.

I tried to balance it. At the end of the week I'd say I spent too much time doing work things and I kinda neglected my family and some weeks I'll say wow I spent a lot of time with my family I kinda neglected doing some of this or that. It really is a balancing act trying to do all the things a church planter has to do.

But what is interesting is now after 18 months as things begin to fall into place. One of two things happen, you either have a glaring holes, which typically does happen, and then people will actually see that. And I've been pretty honest about my strengths and my weaknesses. And so God sends people to kinda fill in the areas and so it's been really neat to see that happening. So those areas I am not good at which is primarily administration type things, God has been providing me with people in the church to help out with those areas.

Will you plant again? What is your long term vision?
The dream God has given me is for Portland in particular. You can't go out and buy lots of land. It's 750,000 acre area right now in the Bethany area where we are right now. And you can't go out an buy lots and lots of land so even if you have the money its not available. There is a thing called the urban growth boundary that limits growth to inside the boundary which jacks the prices up and we just couldn't go outside of that into farmland and try to build something even if we wanted to. It's just not available.

And so we knew going in we can't get a church building and continue to grow it and grow it in that way. Our strategy always from the beginning has been to be multi-site. To say where can we find places like schools, like movies theaters. A big passion of mine is going in, like we are now, to an existing church that is kinda in decline and how can we come in and partner with them and use the facility at another time and be able to have some programs and things and do some joint things together to help revitalize that area. We are looking at 25 campuses throughout the Portland metro in the next 25 years.

We are also though not stopping there because I don't think it's just about doing campuses, I think it's more than that, it's actually planting 25 churches around the world. We can't do that on our own so that is another reason we have joined New Thing Network so that together in the network we can plant these churches, but we'll do our part.

What would your advice be for me as I complete my church planting internship?
I remember someone saying once that Church Planting wasn't about the church plant but it was God's way to develop the planter. I remember thinking well, no no it's about this thing that God wants me to do. But I think after 18 months I'm thinking that's probably true. God uses the church plant to accomplish what he wants in other peoples lives but a lot of this is God dealing with me and that's a scary thing but it's also a really good thing. Kinda the refining moments of your life.

My advice is that, and it sounds so cliche, read the Bible and pray. I tell you those 2 things when things have been so chaotic, one of the surprises has been for me that the highs are really high and the lows are really low and they occur sometimes within days. Ministry in general has ups and downs but church planting is compressed, time is compressed, and so we'll have one day when things are an all time high and 2 days later you get news of something that happened and its really the worst thing that's happened.

To handle that roller coaster ride you have to be daily able for just a few minutes be able to get some time alone and time with God reading his word. WayneCordeiro spoke last year at the National New Church conference in Orlando and that was his message which was just great, it was read the bible and pray. He laughed as he said it to all his pastors.

But where I was at that moment was right at the end of the 9 month honeymoon period and I just really left committed to do that and I was just so glad. I am just finishing up now here a year reading through the Bible in a year. And I hadn't done that in years, I mean I had always read but not in a systematic way and I can honestly say that I don't think I would have made it if I wasn't grounded daily getting some word from God. It's amazing, you have something bad happen, and you are reading and think wow, it wasn't as bad as that guy in the Bible! Here is something from God that just says you know I will always be with you, don't give up, be strong and courageous.

Things like that just really make my day and then when things are going good God would have a way then in my Bible reading plan to humble me and go yeah, that's true, I am not all that. I think that is a huge thing. You need that constant in your life in church planting because it is so full of ups and downs. And people you can count on. And so you need someone you can count on.

How do you like to use Twitter? And by the way, why did you start following me on Twitter?
I am one of those tech geeks which is partly why I picked this area to plant a church because Intel has several plants around here and the area is very much a techie area. I always try the new stuff that comes out. I looked and I had signed up for Twitter 420 days ago, way before it was kinda the cool thing to do. I started it and no-one I knew was on it so I kinda didn't really use it for a while but you know I am always trying stuff.

One of our values is high-tech and high-touch. It's not an either or, it's both. And we value the use of technology. Twitter really at first was an experiment and it's been neat to see what's going on. I intentionally follow church planters and church leaders. I follow theinternet superstars just out of curiosity. The other thing I started to do even beyond church planters was follow local people and I really felt that there are mainly techie people on it right now and church planters tend to be kinda on the cutting edge of stuff anyway so they fall into that category.

About 3 weeks ago I got a direct message on Twitter from a guy in Portland saying can we talk, can I call you? And I said sure, so he called me. His wife is going through some stuff and he didn't know anybody to talk to. And yet he saw on my Twitter thing that I am a pastor and lived in the area and we went out to coffee a couple of times and he and his family are probably at some point going to come visit the church at least. So it really was an opportunity and through Twitter we still communicate and direct message that way. So that was really an unexpected use. We are looking for a worship person, we don't have very much money to do it, but I just put out a quick little Twitter thing and had a response and was talking to this one person who said hey, I am in the area and I might be willing to help. Even a job opportunity came through.

I just think it's neat. Everyone asks, what do you do exactly? Pastors only work one day a week right? So what I've done is put it on my blog, but also our church newsletter we send out I put "What's Matt doing?" and I put "Twitter". And so you can click on that and see what I am doing and I try to update it as much as I can and so it is just one way to let the congregation know wow, Matt has a lot of coffee meetings, no wonder he's that way! But anyway, I appreciate the church planters I follow. Some I've know for a while through there blogs and then obviously others like yourself getting acquainted.

I just love how church planting is so different, like I feel far more in common with the small business owner than I do with other churches. That will change I am sure as we get older but that it partly why I love hanging out at the Chambers of Commerce, I like hanging out with other Entrepreneurs learning different things. I think that the church planting community is just a neat community and we share so much. Before I ever started I was blogging and I was following other people who had planted already and since then I have had others like yourself say hey, what was your first budget like? How did you do this? Just sharing resources and encouragement has just been really really a neat thing and technology really makes that easy. I don't have to take a lot of time to follow you or follow others I can just do it in the regular course of the day.

Matt, thanks for your time. That wraps up the interview. I really appreciate it.


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