This past weekend, Loree and I were able to get away together and spend some time with a great friend, Carey Nieuwhof and his wife, Toni. We had a blast celebrating my birthday in their home, laughing, telling stories, and enjoying authentic Canadian hospitality.
Carey is the founder and lead pastor of Connexus Community Church, (www.connexuscommunity.com) a multi-site church located in Barrie and Orillia, Ontario, Canada. Connexus is a strategic partner of Northpoint Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. In just 6 years, Connexus has a weekly attendance of nearly 1,000 people. More than half the people who attend say this is their first regular church experience.
On the long drive back from Canada yesterday, Loree and I shared the highlights of our shared experience with
1. Connexus knows how to engage people to do portable church really well! For six years they have been setting up church in two movie theaters every week. The logistics team shows up with the trailers at 6:00 a.m.! Each campus is a live experience with it’s own ministry team and music. The message is captured live at Barrie and played back at the Orillia campus the following week. I was able to experience both venues. Not surprisingly, the video is so well done that I found myself as engaged at the Orillia campus as I was at the Barrie campus where Carey was speaking live. We are so impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm we saw in this team on a random Sunday in late July. You’d think this crew lived for Sunday morning! You guys really inspired me!
2. Paid and volunteer staff are aligned with the vision and mission. That creates energy and focus. Everyone I spoke with understood exactly what Connexus was trying to accomplish: to turn a movie theater into a church that unchurched people would love to attend, to lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the stuff of mission statements on paper, but it was so cool to hear these exact words come out of the mouths of volunteers who “get it!” Set up was not a task to be done but a mission to accomplish. Six years later, they're still going.
3. This is a church that knows how to have fun. We loved it that they are having a great time doing what they do. There was lots of smiles and laughter and that all-around good vibe that comes from people enjoying themselves. Carey is an excellent communicator. He gave a talk on Esther that was illustrated by a very creative and humorous series of slides that identified the key players in the story in a very fun and creative way. There were a lot of laughs in the room when Carey illustrated how the Xerxes replaced Vashti with Esther (I know that might sound boring, but that’s my point! Carey and the creative team came up with a really fun way of engaging people and making them care about the people in the Bible story. Watch the message here… http://vimeo.com/71211949
4. Connexus is the model of the value “less is more.” Because they don’t try to do everything, there is a focus of energy that produces excellence. Great ministry is always expensive, but even more so in Canada. With the cost of land and buildings out of reach for this new church, Carey led his team to appreciate the value of being “permanently portable.” He challenges the idea that excellence can’t be achieved in a portable environment. He often says, “The best the entertainment world has to offer comes through portable environments. Think of the best show or concert you ever saw…it happened in a portable environment! You didn’t have to go to England to hear Coldplay in their own building.” This kind of thinking freed Connexus to give their best every week and not “endure” having to set up and tear down a theater. This thinking led to the crazy idea of being a totally portable multi-site church! This vision means more can be invested in making the environments great instead of waiting around until a permanent facility can be secured. Conversations are happening with the parent company of the theater for a longer contract with the ability to permanently install some of their equipment. This kind of thinking means there can be excellence NOW which engages volunteers. We found an engaged, enthusiastic team that feels they “get to” transform the Galaxy Cinemas in Barrie and Orillia into a state-of-the-art environments.
5. The ministry is designed with the end result in mind. We loved it that people were being baptized at the video campus in Orillia the Sunday we visited. Just think! People who only see the message on video are going public with their faith in Jesus Christ. And in another powerful moment, a young man walked to the stage after the end of the service at the Barrie Campus and said in my hearing, “I’m not sure I believe all this, and I have some doubts, but I really like it and I’m going to keep coming back. Would you help me with some of my questions?” This is what it’s all about! This is why people give and serve and sacrifice.
From the team at Heartland Church, we send an huge shout-out of encouragement to our partners in ministry across the border up north. Way to go, Connexus!
Be sure to check out Carey’s blog www.careynieuwhof.com and his books, Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity: Connect Your Family to a Wider Community (with Reggie Joiner)