Growing and staying personal: Making worship work in a multi-unit ministry

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

At the Layton Christian Life Center, Crowder is “the big guy,” and he has been since he was spiritually impressed to minister in Utah in 1986. The Center shares space with the Layton Christian Academy, a fact that mandates a large, functional facility that can meet the various needs of both a dynamic megasize church as well as a fully accredited school with some 600 kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

“One of the big challenges faced by many megachurches is that it seems like a waste to build such large structures only to have them sit empty most of the time,” Crowder said. “We don’t have that problem. This place is a seven-day-a-week operation. Practically every square inch of this building is used all the time, and there are times when we have two or three things going on at the same time.”

And the fiery, energetic church leader wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, he said, as the church and school have expanded through the years, the facility has been enlarged to accommodate additional needs as well as to provide ample space that could be used for community events.

“We aren’t just a church,” Crowder said. “We are also a school and a community center.”

That fact, he said, has helped both the school and the church survive the ebb and flow of economic realities through the years.

“A number of Christian schools closed down during the recession,” said Crowder, who noted that his college business degree has come in handy during such times. “We’ve weathered the economic storms because we had the school and the church and neither was on its own. We’ve been able to split costs and share expenses in a way that has been beneficial to both.”

Through it all, the church has continued to grow as the spiritual home for what is now more than 2,000 regular attenders.

“We started small,” Crowder said, referring to his early days when a full house meant 50 or 60 people at the old church building on Layton’s Golden Avenue. “We grew quickly at first, like an old revival breakout. Since then we’ve maintained as a healthy, growing church, but we haven’t had the manpower to facilitate the establishment of additional campuses or churches.”

And that’s OK, the pastor said, because “we’re comfortable with who and where and what we are.”

Campus congregations

For Pastor Paul Robie at South Mountain Community Church, the decision to go with the multisite concept was a way to harness the advantages of a large congregation while still maintaining the intimacy and warmth of a smaller church.

“The only people who love a huge crowd (are) the band and the preacher,” he said, chuckling as he leaned back in his office chair. “Everyone else likes a more intimate feel. People like to know their leader, their pastor. And that just isn’t possible when a church gets so big.”

That’s part of the reason Robie travels back and forth from church to church most Sundays.

“In most multisite churches, the pastor is on a big screen — that’s the No. 1 way that multisite churches do their preaching,” he said. “But we have chosen not to go that way. We live in such an impersonal world, and I think people are looking for the personal touch at church. So that’s what we give them.”

He is also concerned about members of his congregation who have come to South Mountain Community Church after leaving their previous church as a result of a crisis of faith.

“A crisis of faith is often manifest as a crisis of trust,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to walk into our services and have someone say to them, ‘You’ll probably never meet that guy on the screen, but you can trust him.’ So that’s why we don’t go that way.”

Instead, Robie does most of the Sunday preaching, while campus pastors, freed from the weekly tyranny of having to prepare sermons, spend their time in hands-on ministry to the people who attend church at their respective campuses.

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