A Personal Mega-Church

By the numbers, Trinity Church in Lansing, Mi would be considered a ‘Mega-church.’ With 3 services each weekend, an average 2700 adults attend pulling behind them 500 to 700 children.  However, if you were standing on the balcony between services, you would experience a unique culture within the congregation.  A large atrium stretches across the back of the auditorium, with light flooding in from a three story window wall. Before, after and between services, Trinity member and guests pause over coffee to genuinely partake of each other’s lives.  The attendance numbers haven’t pushed aside real relationships, genuine caring, and time taken to build lasting friendships.

Trinity started in 1952 as a home fellowship.  Students and adults associated with Michigan State University wanted a personal, relationally connected church fellowship. The congregation is still strongly composed of professionals from the East Lansing university and business community. However, since moving to Lansing’s south side, the congregation has grown in numbers, and diversity.

For the next couple weeks I will be highlighting Lansing Trinity for this reason: although the numbers are large, the relationships are intimate and those at the church’s core continually reach outward.  While a member there, I couldn’t walk through the atrium without a number of genuine friends finding me, and asking meaningful questions.  So often I hear/read complaints about how larger churches loose the personal touch.  Trinity is an exception.  As such, those of us in ministry can learn from their spiritual, relational, and community successes.

I spoke with the Director of Connection ministries, Jeff Schneider, and asked about this personal and genuine organizational culture that is at Trinity’s core.  As we discussed what the church practiced in the way of supporting practices, Jeff told me that 70% – 75% of the congregation is regularly involved in small group communities.  Most meet in homes during the week, and gather multiple times a month, with a few meeting in the church building

I asked Jeff to what he attributed this high percentage of small groups.  He replied these three points:

1.    The church leadership models small groups.  The church leadership, from the head pastor to children’s church teachers are committed to “doing life together.”
2.    Small group ministry as a model for Christian growth is supported from the pulpit.  Christian growth and disciple building is understood and taught as necessary fruit in a Christian’s life. Small groups are a consistent vehicle to bring about that deep, abiding growth.
3.   Each year, the church holds 2 connection events. In the worship program each week is an opportunity to indicate interest in small groups for the outgoing. What Trinity has found more effective is biannual connection events. Jeff related that face to face events, where those who are not involved in small groups can meet leaders and build relational bridges, are the most effective means to get a new person to take the risk of engaging deliberate Christian community.

Read more about Trinity Church, Lansing Michigan here.


Questions, Cultures, Models and Assumptions

When you consider a ministry’s effectiveness, the questions you ask will be of more importance than any other factor.  Your questions must zero in on the heart of the matter, and not measure the outward appearances.  An example from scripture is Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler.  The man’s outward status wasn’t the issue. Neither was the amount of money he could give to the local church. Jesus put his finger on the pulse when he asked the man to give up everything to follow Him.  The amount wasn’t important. What was important was that the influential ruler abandon that which was his source of status in order to identify himself with Christ.

An example from the world outside of the church – If I were wearing rose colored glasses and you asked me what color the sky was on a given day, my answer would be affected by my point of view, those issues (in this example my glasses) to which I am attached. In this case, my answer would not be an accurate reflection of the sky’s true color.

All of this is to say – If you are engaged building a transformational church, ministry, or para-church organization, being able and willing to detach yourself from what is important to you, and ask questions that reach for the heart of a matter is central to the success of building a biblical, transformational, prevailing ministry.

I don’t believe that size or the amount of a church’s budget is the issue, or the measuring stick that is important to heaven.  I don’t believe that the particular denomination, or the worship style or theological paradigm is central to the Jesus’ goals. Yet how often do we read about these measuring sticks in contemporary Christian publications.  Like Christ, I believe we must look beyond those measuring sticks which are easily quantified, and like his interaction with the rich ruler we must abandon those things which identify us, and reach for the heart of the matter.

Here is the Heart of the Matter: A growing, transformational, prevailing ministry is Christ-centric, and is teaching, modeling, equipping and releasing its people to be Christ-centric influencers of their world.

When we look at Christ’s example, his encounter with different individuals was taylored to the person, and was meant to create in intimate encounter with Him.  He treated the rich ruler differently than the Pharisees, and Nicodemus who came to him at night seeking differently than the woman dragged to his feet in broad daylight.  Yet each encounter moved the person to engage Himself – personally, intimately, and uniquely based on the person’s own needs.

Over the next few weeks, I will be interviewing a number of ministries which are exercising unique levels of influence in their own communities.  These ministries have been chosen because they fit the descriptions of “transformational, culturally influential, and Christ-centric.” They have not been chosen because they are unique, emergent, contemporary, traditional or matching any other easily defined measurement.

The Heart at Home:  Our call is to be Christ-centric, to engage the culture, and see it transformed into his image. (Matt 5.13-16) This process can only begin if we are transformed ourselves into His image, likeness, character, personality, taking his priorities on as our own.  (It may be in your ministry that this is your starting point) However, lessons on discipleship and holiness will be left for another day, and other blogs.

The next few interviews here in Ministry in Motion will be with ministries which have accepted this call, and having been transformed themselves are seeking to affect transformation of their members, and the community around them.  Stay tuned.  This conversation will get interesting.  And as always, I invite your feedback.

We are called to change the world. (Matt 28.18-20)

How effective is your ministry carrying out that goal? (2 Cor 5.17-21)

Ask this question of our Lord, and let him honestly reply with conviction, encouragement and instruction into your heart. (2 Tim 3.16-17)

Together, let’s look at others who are prevailing, and learn from their faithfulness. (Prov 14.18-20)

Tim Burns