Doing Less to Reach More: Trevor DeVage on 160% Church Growth in 18 Months

Thanks for tuning into this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Lead Pastor Trevor DeVage from Pantano Christian Church in Arizona, one of the fastest growing churches in the country.

Is your church in a season of growth, needing to streamline its ministries? Or are you trying to simplify your systems so that they will be more scaleable? Listen in as Trevor talks about how simplifying your focus to what aligns with your mission can provide the momentum your church needs to grow.

  • Gaining momentum. // Pantano Christian Church has a rich history spanning over 60 years, and Trevor is the ninth lead pastor of the church. While the church has been a prevailing force for decades, with the last decade being particularly fruitful in terms of growth and evangelism, Trevor observed that they needed to identify what was leading to their growth. Knowing why you have momentum is the fastest way to catch the next wave of momentum, and Pantano wanted to be more intentional about their growth.
  • Set a metric for growth. // Pantano’s leadership began by setting a metric for growth so they had goals to work towards. In the summer of 2022 Pantano was averaging about 3400 people, but they believed God wanted to help them reach 8000 people in the Tuscon area between August 2022 and December 2023. However, do to that and maintain the level of excellence they were known for, they knew they would need to eliminate some of the things they were doing as a church.
  • Simplify your ministry. // Pantano’s staff put together a spreadsheet of everything their ministries were doing. In anticipation of growth, the staff then worked to eliminate anything that wasn’t working or didn’t align with the mission of the church. Removing programs and simplifying structures allowed the church to make their systems scaleable. For example, the discipleship pathway was simplified from being a 42-week program to being a 10-week program that uses Rooted. That change alone enabled the church to put almost 1000 people through Rooted in the last 12 months.
  • Do less to reach more. // Having seen growth in every area from baptisms to kids ministry to weekend attendance, Trevor is keenly aware that the staff needs to continue to evaluate what needs to be simplified in their ministry so they don’t burn out. Every three months the staff does check-ins to see if anything is out of alignment with the church’s mission. At every growth point identify what else could be removed that no longer fits at your church.
  • Simplify evangelism. // Evangelism was already a big part of Pantano’s DNA and Trevor and his team further enhanced that by giving their people the simple vision of reaching one person at a time. In the US, it’s tempting to turn evangelism into a program rather than something we naturally do as Christ followers. But Pantano simply empowers their people to be able to tell their stories well, and encourages them weekly to think about their one person and earn the right to be invited into their life. These stories of redemption are then regularly celebrated during weekend services.
  • Lead the process. // Trevor admits that simplification is the hardest thing the church has had to do, but it’s had a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of the ministry. Lead pastors need to embrace simplification and drive the process, rather than expecting the staff team to do it. By simplifying the vision and owning it, you will model it to your staff in return.

You can find more about Pantano Christian Church at and connect with Trevor on social media @trevordevage.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well hey, everybody welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Super excited that you have decided to tune in today. You know every week we try to bring you a leader who will both inspire, equip you, motivate you, point you in ah in a new direction, and today is no exception. I am super excited to have Trevor DeVage with us. He is from Pantano Christian Church – they’re in Tucson, Arizona. They started in 1961, but today they’re one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Ah, it’s it’s launched four church plants in Southern Arizona and they’ve really started thousands of church literally globally. And Trevor joined here in 2022. Trevor, welcome to the show. Glad you’re here.

Trevor DeVage — Well man, it’s good to be on. Thanks for having me. Um, it’s it’s gonna be fun.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this. We were joking ahead of time we have some common friends. It’s always fun to interact with people who are like know each other, and know each other’s friends, which is great. So why don’t you tell us, kind of fill in the Pantano story, kind of what did I miss there? People who show up this weekend, what would they experience, give us a sense of that.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, so you’re absolutely right. We just celebrated 60 years um last last year. Actually a year ago this week we celebrated 60 years and ah and so this church has got a very rich history. We’ve um I’m actually the ninth lead pastor of this church. And so um, over 60 years that’s ah, I think that’s a pretty good pattern. In fact, um, the the last really the last 25 really last 35 years, that’s been 3 guys. Um, there was a guy named Ed Towne who, man, was just visionary for Tucson, visionary for the church. Um Ed Towne was actually killed in a car accident here in Tucson um, as the church was kind of growing. And they they really thought you know the the leaders of the church thought, man, we we may be done because Ed was, they were kind of at that critical growth point as a church. And um, that’s hard. You lose a pastor in an accident.

Trevor DeVage — And ah, then this guy named Tim Coop came in who’s pretty much a legend on the and the west coast especially, but Arizona. You you say the name Tim Coop out here and everyone’s like oh Tim Coop.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — And it was really the visionary that that made Pantano a church that was going to be more than just a neighborhood church. It was going to be a church that was gonna pretty much just storming the gates of hell here in Tucson. And they moved the property we’re on now, and then um Tim had this, like like most guys will, we’re all interim pastors by the way…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — …that’s that’s Glen says my predecessor where some of us are in arms for 30 years; some are for three weeks, you know, but…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Um, ah that was when Glen Elliott, who was the executive pastor at the time, um Tim went to him and was like, man I I think you need to lead this thing, and I’m ready to retire. And Glen had never been a lead pastor. And Glen was like and a missionary in Ukraine, he’d been a pastor in Cincinnati but he’d never been lead pastor. And he stepped into that role and Glen built an unbelievable church over the last 22 years.

Trevor DeVage — And so I’m standing on the shoulders of an unbelievable legacy, that I look around our church right now and I’m like, why do I get to be a part of this? Like it’s it it’s like there’s Mount Rushmore and then they put like Homer Simpson on the side. You know what it feels in a little bit.

Rich Birch — [laughs] Ah, come on man, come on that… yeah, love that. I hear what you’re saying. Well I love that you’re taking time to honor, you know, the the legacy the leaders that have come before you. That’s that’s such an important thing, particularly, you know, with a historic church like yours it’s been around, you know, historic. I was just in I spent a bunch of time in in England in the last ah you know last six months…

Trevor DeVage — And we’re not historic.

Rich Birch — I know and I it was such a different perspective. One of the churches I was interacting with there, they’ve been on that site for 1000 years. There’s been a church on that one one…

Trevor DeVage — Wow.

Rich Birch — …which is crazy. It’s crazy. But anyways, ah you know, but something has changed in the last few years, you know. Pantano really seeing ah you know some incredible growth, and I’d love to kind of dig into that. Why don’t you kind of take us back ah, kind of pre- that growth. Give us a sense of the church and then let’s talk through what’s what’s gone on these last few years.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, well Pantano’s history even… I hate that we have to talk in like PC and and AC, right? Pre-covid, post-covid or after covid.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, it’s helpful though.

Trevor DeVage — It is helpful, but pre-covid I mean Pantano’s been a prevailing church for decades. Um.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — The last decade in particular I mean Pantano was pre-covid, man, this church was going and blowing, man. They were baptizing people, they were they were growing, adding services, adding adding seats, ah the whole deal, right? And then of course the the great shutdown of the world happened and everything kind of came to a halt. Um, the word we all hate around here. Our team hates this word but it’s a reality. Everybody had to pivot. Um, which I think I think of a friend…

Rich Birch — Oh yes, if I hear that one more time…

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, ah, the only time I wanna hear it now is Ross screaming it on Friends, right?

Rich Birch — Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Trevor DeVage — Um, but coming out of covid, so Glen decided in the middle of the pandemic I think it’s time for me to step aside. And Glen Glen has got a lot of like he’s got a lot left in the tank like he didn’t have to retire. Um and he actually he would he would even say he didn’t retire, he just kind of reallocated his his time. But coming out of that, um we were we were coming out of a pretty hard season in Ohio. Glenn and I had been friends for for quite some time. And ah I thought Glen already retired and so he he calls me in the midst of us kind of going through our hell on earth and he was like wait, you’re available? And I was like, apparently. And he was like, I wanted you like two years ago; I just didn’t think you were movable. And I was like, oh, okay. Um, well why didn’t you call me two years ago; that might have saved me a little bit pain.

Trevor DeVage — But um, here we here we are, and we step into this and here’s what drew me to Tucson. One that three hundred and so fifty days of sunshine doesn’t hurt. But um, what drew me to here was that this is a church that um they are massively aggressive at evangelizing the community around them. And so Glen’s heartbeat was evangelism. My heartbeat is evangelism. I’m way better with lost people than I am a church people. And so um, I’ve just always had…

Rich Birch — What does that look like? What is that massively… how how did you would diagnose like, okay this this church is massively – that’s huge word, massively aggressive at evangelism. What are some of the things that have happened in the past that [inaudible] towards that.

Trevor DeVage — Well, well even just the like something simple, because service, right? Service is huge.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — So I say something simple, but my first weekend on site, we do a thing called Serve Our City where we shut down our church for a weekend. And we we sent like 1700 people into our community to serve for a Sunday.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — And people are like well and now church people, they always, like pastors, are like well what do you do about offering?

Rich Birch — [laughs]

Trevor DeVage — I’m like I’m like it’s…

Rich Birch — No, I’m sure the listeners on this show don’t they’re not really that was not their first concern.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, yeah, yeah, not at all. Ah, but I mean expressly coming out of covid where budgets are…

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yes, yes, yeah.

Trevor DeVage — Um, but what we found, I mean 70 so I got to be secret shopper for one day here. because I’d been hired and nobody knew it.

Rich Birch — Right. Okay. Fun.

Trevor DeVage — So I got to go to all these locations and none of these people knew me. So it was like undercover boss, you know?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — And so I go to all these sites around town. And what I found was as I was talking to people, the reason they’re a part of Pantano is because Pantano cares more about the community than it does about itself.

Rich Birch — Oh so good.

Trevor DeVage — And and so I was like, okay this is my heartbeat; this is who we are. Um, and so all the DNA of Pantano, like all the undergirding of evangelism and the verbiage was all there. Um I think covid just kind of put everything on a halt. And so um, we as I came in, you know, Glen on purpose here’s what’s beautiful about Glen and I’s transition: Glen on purpose didn’t start any new initiatives two years before he retired. The only thing he did was remodel our auditorium, which I’m so thankful today because in the old auditorium we would have been out of space six months ago. Now we’re out of space right now. But that’s the only thing he did. He didn’t, no new visionary initiatives. No new like church plant initiatives, multisite, none of that. He was like I wanted the people to be so primed to go when you got here that when you hit the ground, they could just catapult. And and so literally we just infused like this B12 shot of Glen’s excitement about what we were doing, my excitement coming in the door, and ah man it just it’s catapulted in the last really the last eighteen months. We have…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Here’s here’s what’s crazy: I mean just the number of people that have given their life to Jesus in this place in the last eighteen months. We just this weekend coming up, we will we will surpass 700 baptisms since January of 22. So…

Rich Birch — Wow! That’s amazing!

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, so last year we had 412 last year where it ah we’ll we’ll go over over 295 for this year this weekend that we’ve got. Um easter was our our highest baptisms ever on a Sunday; we had 145 baptisms Easter Sunday…

Rich Birch — Wow, that’s amazing.

Trevor DeVage — It was really just God. And it was really really cool because I had Glen and our executive pastor, Roger, doing the baptisms on Easter, and ah—which Glen’s still around; he’s volunteers. He’s a rock star—um, and so he told me before Easter he goes, our our record for one day was 99 baptisms. I said when we get to a hundred I want Glen to get the hundredth baptism and so.

Rich Birch — Oh so sweet.

Trevor DeVage — That that he baptized the hundredth, and he baptized the one hundred and forty fifth, which was really cool. Um, but to see his excitement is the guy that is, you know, you want your predecessor to be proud of what’s going on here. He has just been massively supportive of the growth that is happening; he’s this is why we did what we did is because this next wave. So the last year we’re we’re up about 15- to 1800 people over this time last year.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and I wish I could tell you, man, we’re just brilliant strategists. Um, and I really it come back to something you and I’ve been talking about as just simplicity, is what we’ve really dove into.

Rich Birch — Yes. Love it. Well so ah, well first of all I love all that context. That is so good. And what an amazing um, you know that fact that you’ve, you know, baptized or you’re cross over 700 baptisms since the beginning of last year, that’s that’s just amazing. That’s that’s incredible. Well I’d love to hear about that simplicity piece. So what, you know, what are some of the ways that you’ve simplified? And has that been how much of that was response to growth, because you know as things start to scale it’s like, gosh we’ve got to get simpler because we just can’t keep all this complexity. Or was it proactive like, hey, let’s try to you know pull some of these things out?

Trevor DeVage — Well, it started off as proactive because when I came in the door I hit the ground full time June of last year but I was flying back and forth from January to June, so I was here twelve days a month for like six months.

Rich Birch — Ok.

Trevor DeVage — In that six months I did a lot of just reconnaissance. I was listening a lot to our team. I was listening a lot to our church. And I was watching, without us doing any strategy really that first six months, I was watching our church like hit these waves. I think I can’t remember… I’m going to give Rick Warren credit because that’s who I heard say it. He…or and maybe it was Andy Stanley…

Rich Birch — He’s a good guy to give, either of those guys are good guys to give credit to.

Trevor DeVage — Um, you know just I’ll give them credit. Um, it’s not mine I can tell you that.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Um, but the the whole if you know having momentum and not knowing why you have momentum is the fastest way to lose momentum. Um, but momentum and knowing why you have momentum is a fastest way to catch the next wave of momentum. And so.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Trevor DeVage — Um, we just saw these waves the first six months. One was I got hired and so there was this energy that came with that. And then there was um, there was Easter and I I tried to get Glen to preach that last Easter, and he was like this is not my last Easter, it’s you’re first. And I I fought him on it. I was like, no bro I want you to. I was like, as the new lead pastor I’m telling you you’re preaching Easter. He goes [inaudible] I got news for you, as the outgoing lead pastor I’m telling you I’m not. And but he I’m doing that to solidify your leadership, he goes because that Sunday will solidify for the community your leadership. And it was brilliant. He was right.

Rich Birch — Ah, that’s glorious like.

Trevor DeVage — And then we rode that Easter wave into the sixtieth celebration, and the Glen sendoff, and we moved here in June. So there was just all these waves. So when I finally got on the ground full time, I looked at we did a lead team retreat. We got away for two days and I just told our team I said growth growth is already happening and we’ve done nothing, except ride waves.

Trevor DeVage — Um, I said so if we get strategic so we got away for two days. I said I need to know what is… we got to set a metric of growth. And I know sometimes in the church we start talking numbers and everyone’s like oh all you care about is numbers. There’s an entire book of the bible called Numbers. Somebody cares about Numbers. Um.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — Somebody made a count in the book of Acts for the amount of people that showed up on the day of Pentecost. All these lives matter to us. We live in the twelfth largest unchurched city in America, in Tucson. So out of a million people in Pima County, Arizona um, 850,000 don’t know Jesus.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — And and they’re not antagonistic towards the gospel. They just don’t know.

Rich Birch —Right.

Trevor DeVage — So it’s not like a Portland; it’s not like a San Francisco. They just don’t know what they don’t know. And so I said to our team, I said, we need to set a metric for December of 2023—this was August of last year. December is coming really quick now that that I…

Rich Birch — It sounded like a long ways away.

Trevor DeVage — It sounded like a long way away for vision back in August. Um, and so we came back two months later, and I’m sitting in a leadership team meeting with our team. and I I just I looked at our team I said, all right, I wanted I had a number in my head of what our growth would look like. And I thought it was a good number. And I thought it was a Godly number. And I thought it was a big number. And and then I looked at one of my lead team members and he looked at me—and keep in mind we were running like 34- 3300 right at that moment—and he looks at me, probably one of the most Godly men on our staff, and he looks at me and he goes, I’ve been praying about it and God told me I think 8000 is what we’re going to reach in 2023.

Rich Birch — What?! Oh my goodness.

Trevor DeVage — And now my face said, man, that’s cool. Inside my head I was like, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m I’m literally like, I’m looking at trying to be as kind with my eyes as possible; in my head I’m like, you’re an idiot.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Trevor DeVage — Like that’s I would use you might as well said a gajillion, like that’s that’s what it sounded like. The next guy at the table goes, oh my gosh I was praying and I got the same thing. And I’m now…

Rich Birch — What…

Trevor DeVage — I’m like I’m looking at both of them like I’ve got two morons on my staff. That’s that’s literally what’s going through my head. I’m like they’ve lost their mind.

Rich Birch — Two open roles as…

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, [inaudible] they’ve been in the parking lot doing drugs? Like what happened? And I start to look around the table and there’s about 15 people on our lead team and nobody seems like baffled by this. They’re all like, yeah that sounds about right. And I’m like so I had elders meeting that night. I go to the elders I’m like they’ll speak reason into this, right?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — I’m like I’ll go to my board. They’ll speak reason. So I primed them too. I was like, guys I got tell you this crazy thing that our staff just said today. And I’m setting them up for like they’re gonna take my side. They’re gonna be in and I told ‘em I was like, our staff said we’re gonna, basically we’re gonna double in eighteen months. and ah I was waiting for it and they were like, oh yeah, that sounds about right.

Rich Birch — [laughs]

Trevor DeVage — And I just in my head I was like, I have moved my family to the land of delusion. Like these people…

Rich Birch — What is in the water? What is in the water in Tucson?

Trevor DeVage — [inaudible] off the mountain, like apparently they didn’t purify their water. Like I’ve seen Naked and Afraid, and I’m afraid right now, like I’m afraid.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — And ah so I literally I’m on my back porch two days later and I’m praying. And God literally, if I’ve ever, I don’t hear God audibly speak. Like if it it’s James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman, right? And and what what I’ve distinctly got is I’m sitting on my patio one morning, is God God literally spok into my soul like, why are you the only one on the team that’s putting limits on me?

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Trevor DeVage — And I I was like all right, I’ll shut up now.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — It feels like Job, you know? All right, I’ll shut up. I’ve already said…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes. Oh man. Wow.

Trevor DeVage — So that started the process, if we’re going to reach 8000 people in eighteen months, um we can’t keep doing everything that we’re doing because Pantano has a history, if you ask anybody in our town anybody in church world in our city, Pantano is known for excellence at all things.

Trevor DeVage — So you walk in everything will be done with the utmost of excellence. And so, I told all of our teams I said I need you—so this is where the process started in September of last year—I said I need you to put on a spreadsheet everything your ministry does.

Rich Birch — Okay, okay. Right.

Trevor DeVage — So ah if you look at just one ministry, it’s like okay they do a lot. But when you look at all ministries, I mean it was pages of stuff.

Rich Birch — Wow. Right.

Trevor DeVage — And and I just told them I said, if we’re going to even get to 5000, you’ve got to cut some stuff out of this. And I said it’s not eliminating bad things, we should stop doing whatever doesn’t fit.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — But if it doesn’t fit the mission of what we’re trying to accomplish, there’s things we love that we need to stop doing. And I said, this gonna be hard because you guys have some babies that you love in that list…

Rich Birch — So true.

Trevor DeVage — …that you’re going to have to get rid of.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — You know it’s like you get the puppy that you get attached to and then it grows and you’re like, oh now we got give the dog away.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — Well there was a lot of puppies in that list that we were gonna have to give away. And so our our team went through this hard task of, from basically September to October of last year, of eliminating.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — And and it wasn’t elimination nearly as much as it was, what do we what are we gonna do that meets our mission which will help us determine what we say no to. And

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — And I I told our team I said, you can make anything fit.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — You can you like I can we got basket weaving for Jesus; I can make that fit, right?

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah.

Trevor DeVage — We don’t have basket weaving.

Rich Birch — I can tell that story.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — So help me understand that was what I… just to drill down on that kind of one layer deeper… Well first of all I love that. I love even just the the task of asking our teams to get it all into one place, like let’s get it all into one document. I think that alone is an eye-opening you know, experience for folks. Give me a sense of some of those things, maybe like easy cuts that were like of course of course that just makes sense, like basket weaving for Jesus, ah, you know. Or ones that maybe were a little tougher, things that were like, ooh I’m not sure that that feels a little bit more close to the bone. Can you just sense the kinds of things that started to bubble out?

Trevor DeVage — Ah, well I’ll use our discipleship department. Um, and ah Cindy who oversees our discipleship department, our Discipleship Pastor, she’s fantastic. Been here a long time. Um, we had we had three we had a pathway discipleship pathway, but it was 42 weeks.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — You would have to go through um discovering faith. Um, you would have to go through, um I’m trying to remember – there was three legs to this. And then we started Rooted.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Um and I looked at that and I just went I said, Cindy, I said, we’re asking people, we’re trying to get people to know Jesus faster. But then we we get them in a discipleship pipeline and we’re saying but it’s going to take you 42 weeks before we deem you a mature enough disciple to do anything.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — And and she was like, okay. I said and I I told her I said, I’ll let you run this course till till December, and in January will reevaluate. She came back to me in October and goes, I can’t wait till January. She goes, I see where we’re going; I see what it’s gonna take. We’ve got to go all in with Rooted. So she moved these two other pieces into into just electives for people. So our disciples pathway went from 42 weeks to ah to ten weeks.

Rich Birch — Oh wow; that’s a huge cut.

Trevor DeVage — Ah and and so when you expedite by 3 years, that that expedites your church by 3 years.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Trevor DeVage — Um and and actually it expedites it faster because now in the last in the last year we’ve put almost a thousand people through Rooted.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — And and so um, the only 2 things we talk about here at Panano, you’ll hear it if you are ever to listen or watch, is we talk about Rooted – sign up for Rooted, get in Rooted, we celebrate Rooted, we talk about Rooted. Um and we talk about inviting your one to church. And actually we don’t talk about inviting them to church, we talk about inviting them into your life first. Earn the right to invite—that’s kind of our phrase—earn the right to invite to church. But the only way you earn the right to invite is invite yourself into their life first. And our people have grabbed the one, like that’s it’s not new um, but it was in our DNA. So I just grabbed low-hanging fruit of we got to stop doing, we’ve gotta focus. Um and really Rooted and One, but that came from Cindy cutting a whole bunch of stuff…

Rich Birch — That’s amazing.

Trevor DeVage — …um that she loved, that she started, but she was like, alright I’m good; I see the vision. Let’s go. And ah…

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — …I mean same thing across the board: kids, students, ah our production, worship and arts team. We’ve got a cafe that feeds couple thousand people a weekend on site.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — And ah, they’ve had to get more simplistic. Even our even our engagement pathway, like Starting Point, Discover Pantano, Launching Point, um, even we even shifted our mission statement, we didn’t shift it, it was our mission statement, we just leaned into it. We don’t have volunteers here anymore. Um, so a little shift of verbiage for our people, our our mission statement is loving people to Jesus, launching passionate difference-makers.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — We we got up in a series called Difference Makers and said we don’t, we thank you for volunteer; we don’t want volunteers at Pantano anymore. We want difference makers.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and so we we got rid of volunteers. But we were like, everybody can make a difference. And we want you to make a difference in your community, make a difference in your church, make a difference in your family, make a difference in your work, make a difference in your school.

Trevor DeVage — And and so those things, man, just the simplicity of that… Here’s what’s crazy: so we we get to Easter, right at 9000 people for Easter…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — …um, and then post Easter I thought okay we’ll settle in; we were averaging about 4700 before Easter. I thought okay we’ll be about 5000 after Easter. well we went from 4700 to 5700 in a week.

Rich Birch — Wow. Wow.

Trevor DeVage — And and so now we’ve been we’ve kind of blown through that that 5000 barrier.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — And three weeks ago I sat down with our team and I went, remember what we did last summer? Um, we’re gonna do it again.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — Um, because if we’re going to go from now almost 6000 to 8000 by December, we can’t do everything we’re doing right now to get to 8000.

Rich Birch — Oh love that.

Trevor DeVage — You guys will be burning out, your team will go… So we’re constantly now evaluating at every growth point. We do three month check-ins. We have a document. It’s called the “smells like smoke” document, which comes from…

Rich Birch — [laughs]

Trevor DeVage — It comes from Jude 23, my favorite scripture: rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and we say if you’re if you’re going to help people see Jesus, you gotta get close enough to the pits of hell to get them out. So you better you better smell like smoke. And um and so we we have this document so we just checked the metrics the other day, it was um that we set last year… Average 4500 by Easter; well, we did that. Um it was run um, over over 700 people through Rooted. We did that. Um our student ministry has gone from 50 kids on Wednesday night to 225 kids on Wednesday night.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — Our our kids ministry’s gone from 200 kids to almost 450 kids. Like all of these things…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — …everything’s up and to the right. Now we also understand there’s a lot of excitement when growth is happening.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Trevor DeVage — Um I’m I’m actually praying for those plateau moments so we can breathe.

Rich Birch — Yeah, take a deep breath.

Trevor DeVage — Right, to plan for the next wave. Um, but now what happened is we’re out of parking. We have no parking.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — We can grow in our auditorium, but we can’t park anybody. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Trevor DeVage — Um, now we’re adding we’re going to go to 3 services in and July, um in an auditorium that can see just over 1800 we’re we’re out of space in 2 services. So our online ministry is growing. We planted a microsite in ah in a Mission here in town. We’re going to launch a couple more of those this year, but we’ve got to add a third service because God’s God’s bringing people.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — Um, but it all goes back to simplicity, man.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that.

Trevor DeVage — Like it it just do less to reach more. That’s what we constantly say…

Rich Birch — I love that. So this…

Trevor DeVage — …do less to reach more.

Rich Birch — I just think that’s so good. So much in there to unpack. I love um I want to come back to the invite culture stuff in um, in a minute. I want to ask kind of get your thoughts on how you’re cultivating that with your people. But on the opposite end of of um, what I hear you saying is, we need to simplify so that we’ve got the energy, the resources, the focus, the the ability, to move people um, you know when things are simpler. I love that. That’s a very vivid example: forty two weeks to ten weeks. We’ve talked about Rooted a bunch of times on the podcast; we had Erin Smith or sorry um Erin Kerr on a couple years ago ah, from Mariners talking about Rooted, and many people have have many churches have talked about a similar kind of experience. Fantastic.

Rich Birch — What what have has there been anything in the last eighteen months that you’ve added, or the church has added, because of this extra the extra cycles that you think is also helping you that are… Are there new behaviors? There may not be but I wondered if there’s any new behaviors, new systems, new pieces of the puzzle that you think you might be using?

Trevor DeVage — You know that’s an interesting question. I haven’t even thought of that. Um we because we we didn’t really add anything…

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — …we just enhanced what we already here. Um I just begin to look at the DNA of our church…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — …because I still get 30,000 foot view – I’m getting closer I’m I’m starting to get closer to the ground. Um but I still have the perspective and so here here’s what I knew about Glen, Glen was a systems builder. Glen was a strategist. Um, he was great at strat-ops. He like all of so none of our systems were broken. Nothing was broken at Pantano when I got here. So all I had to do was turn dials to fit my personality and my leadership.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Trevor DeVage — And and so um, not I wouldn’t say we’ve added, I’d say what has shifted in our culture is we have focused so hard on the One. Um, it’s literally our DNA every weekend. You’ll hear it every weekend. We mention every message has something that leads back to the One. And ah our people, this is again southwest versus Midwest. I came to the midwest to the southwest.

Trevor DeVage — I Really thought I would be fighting battles here. I don’t fight. Um the battles I fight are church people that want to move too quickly. Um, in the Midwest I fought church people that didn’t know what quick was.

Rich Birch — Okay, okay, interesting.

Trevor DeVage — Um and so you know I’m saying?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — Like our people are clamoring, like just give us vision to go after. And and we’ve given them just a simple vision: one person at a time.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Trevor DeVage — And so now on our baptism Sundays backstage people are like, this is my One, this is my One, this is my One.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.

Trevor DeVage — It’s just in verbiage. Um I don’t I don’t know that we’ve added anything; I think we’ve enhanced is what we’ve done.

Rich Birch — Enhanced. Yeah that makes sense. More focus, more energy, taking the energy from other things and said hey… Yeah like even that 42 to ten weeks example, obviously those ten weeks um you know, you’ve got more time, she’s got more time to focus on that to make that and even better experience – that makes total sense.

Rich Birch — Talk to me more about the invite culture thing. I love… you kind of tip to hitting it there – the one, the one, the one. Talk us through, from your perspective as a lead pastor, you know we see this in fast-growing churches. You know the difference between plateaued—one of my core convictions is—plateaued, stuck, declining churches and growing churches is growing churches training, equip, mobilize, motivate, there are people to invite their friends, and you’re clearly doing that. Talk us through what that looks like from your seat, from you know the things that you’re doing as a church.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, well I think first of all, it’s like we simplify to amplify.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — So what we simplify is what gets amplified.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — So what we have simplified as evangelism.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — And we’ve made I think traditionally in the church, at least in America, we have made we’ve made evangelism a program. And evangelism is not a program; evangelism is what we are called to be as Christ followers. So the great commission says go and make, not sit and take. We have just leaned into our our culture of our people. Um I’ve told ‘em, I’m like, if you want a church to sit and and take from, you want to just get fat off the church spiritually this is not the church for you.

Trevor DeVage — We love you. We’ll we’ll help you find a church. Um, but this is a mobilizing church. And so we just we have we have shifted our people to be able to tell their story well, and it’s not hard. I’m like it’s your story; just go tell it. And so we what we have literally done is, it sounds so like simplistic and so trite, but the reality is we just tell them every week, earn the right to invite. So who’s your One? Ah we we about once a month I have them re-write it down, write that name down. Do you have that name? I ask them all the time. Do you have a One?

Trevor DeVage — The other piece that I think is more key is our staff, part of our staff um review is who is your One, and what are you doing about it?

Rich Birch — Oh good, good, good.

Trevor DeVage — If our staff doesn’t own it, our church will never own it. So the cool thing is I’ve got staff members that in the last year they’re like, this is the first time I’ve actually invited someone. Great!

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — And they’ve come. You know?

Rich Birch —Yes, yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — And it’s like great. Like I play golf. That’s that’s my thing; I play golf. Um, I’ve got to baptize about 8 guys that I play golf with in Tucson.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Um, it’s just an invite. Like and I yesterday I played golf with a couple guys. One goes to our church, one doesn’t.

Rich Birch — Right

Trevor DeVage — Um and now they’ve invited me to play golf. And I’m like, sweet. So you just invited me into 4 hours of getting to evangelize you. Thank you. Like ah it.

Rich Birch — I’ll take it.

Trevor DeVage — We tell those stories all the time.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Trevor DeVage — Like you can’t not tell; you have to tell the story all the time. So we’re constantly telling the story about our Ones, and whether that’s in video, whether that’s from the platform, whether that’s in Rooted, whether that’s in a small group, whether that’s in the café. Like everywhere we talk about… There’s a big display in our lobby. It’s seven foot plexiglass 3D letters that say One. We put a ballpit ball with the name of every baptism in the date in there.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and it’s just visual reminders and then we have cards outside our auditorium literally they’re little square like 4 by 4 cards. Um, it’s literally just an invite card that we can’t keep them in stock.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — People take them every Sunday.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Um, we’ve just created a culture of invite where if you get them, if you invite them here, we’re going to make sure they get Jesus and they get it in a relevant, authentic way.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. Well I think, you know, there’s so much I love about this, and you know about a month ago, six weeks ago I was at a church and you know they had me in for a coaching thing. And you know I was on Monday I did not on Sunday but on Monday I was challenging the the lead pastor on exactly this. I said you know some of this stuff is not rocket science. Some of it just comes down to like exactly what you’re saying there, which is like let’s articulate, hey next week is a great week for you to bring your friends for these reasons. Like even just, hey my my message is going in this this direction. Do you know, somebody who’s like this? They should come. You know having those invite cards, doing um you know all those there’s one thousand and one of those little things. I love that such a great example. Friends, ah, you know, Trevor just unleashed a whole bunch of great ideas in a very short period of time. You’ve probably got to go back and write down some notes. They’re so good.

Rich Birch — This has been a fantastic conversation. Trevor, as we’re kind of coming into land, anything else you want to share? Any other kind of pieces of the puzzle you want to make sure that we’re we’re thinking about?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, here’s what I would say, just as lead pastor to any other lead pastors out there. And I know there’s a lot more than lead pastors that listen this podcast. But um and if you’re not lead pastor, lean in so you can talk to your lead pastor about it. Um, but lead pastors you have to be, one, you have to own your vision of what you’re asking everybody else to do.

Trevor DeVage — And and when you simplify, simplification is the hardest thing we do. Ah ah like our team I’m like it’s easy to be complex because complex is job security, because if you’re the only one that can describe it, you get to keep your job for a while.

Rich Birch — Oh dude, come on. That’s so good.

Trevor DeVage — Um, but but but simplicity, like Craig Groeschel a couple years ago in his leadership podcast. He said he got introduced as the most boring leader in America. And he and he said, I was offended at first. He goes, but what the guy meant was when you go to Life Church, you know exactly what you’re gonna get, and you know what they’re about.

Trevor DeVage — And ah and I told our team we’re going to be known as the most boring leadership team on the planet earth because when you come to Pantano, I want you to know exactly who we are and what you’re going to get. Pastors, stop like stop complexifying your organization—I don’t think that’s the word but I made it one—um make sure that this… when you go simplicity you have to buy the simplicity first, and you have to drive the simplicity. Don’t ask your team to drive it. You have to drive it.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and then if you drive it enough, your team will catch it. And then you’re just managing the simplicity, which is actually job security. The more simple you can make it, I think the more people you reach. Um, again, our line around here is do less to reach more.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — And if you do less you will reach more when you understand who you are so.

Rich Birch — Love it. So good. This has been a fantastic conversation. I love that analogy of being you know more boring. One of the things you know we’ve talked about in a bunch of contexts is your people won’t invite their friends if they don’t know what is going to happen at whatever thing it is we’re talking about – a service or whatever. They need to be able to be predictable. It needs to be… because when if you think about at the point of invite, you know, I talk to you I’m like hey you come this weekend, there’s gonna be a great band. There’s gonna be, you know, whatever this kind of music, that kind of thing. Well, let’s say if they show up and there’s a there’s a a giant orchestra there, which you could argue is actually better than a 5-piece band. You could say actually that’s a better thing. But it’s different than what I invited you to. It’s different than what I said. What does that do in the relationship? It enters this like oh I you don’t know actually know what’s going on at your own church. It makes people nervous.

Trevor DeVage — [inaudible] is what it feels like.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — And what I’ve found is is most most people in our culture here, they don’t care about our band. They don’t care about the quality.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — They care about authenticity.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — And so now we do ah really, our team is fantastic.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — But what resonates with our people is they feel like there’s no pedestals at Pantano. We have no Pantano pedestals. We kick those over all the time.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — Um I’m I’m horrible on a pedestal. I can’t hold my balance anyhow. Um, but we try to be as real as we can be with people. And I think it’s in that that authenticity is what people are looking for.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and as culture is shifting out of a pandemic into whatever the next thing of the world is um, you know the number one thing we did coming out of Easter is we’ve talked about anxiety, mental health. Um, we’ve had a massive growth out of Easter because we just we’re we’re going talk about mental health. Ah talk about things that the church is traditionally not talked about, but do it in a simple way and people will grab a hold of it.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. Trevor, I’m just so thankful that you were on the show today. I also just want to pause for a moment, friends, and just honor you for your the way that you’re speaking about your predecessors. Friends, it would have been very easy for Trevor to come on and been like, here’s all the changes I made when I showed up and everything’s amazing. Now he wouldn’t have said it like that because he’s a good Christian so he wouldn’t have, you know, he would have couched it in a better way. But he didn’t. Listen carefully to the way he has honored Glen and the leaders that’s come before him. You know, personally as an outsider looking in I think that’s a part of what God’s doing here. He’s he’s honoring your humble leadership in the midst of all that. So I just I just want to honor you, Trevor, for that. It’s ah it’s great to engage with that. I appreciate you being on the show. If we where do we want to send people if they want to track with you, with the church where do we want to send them online?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, I mean the best place to go is – um that’s our website and you can get everything there. We we actually do have a church podcast called The Make. And so you can you can dive deeper with us there and that’s on our website as well. Um, and then if you want to hang out with me, um, you can find me through all those things. But if you just take my name and put it into any social media. It’s just my first and last name: trevordevage – Instagram, Twitter (I don’t even use Twitter anymore and does that thing is Twitter still thing?

Rich Birch — Is that a thing – exactly.

Trevor DeVage — Um Facebook, TikTok all the all that. We’re on all the places. Um I got a website as well. Um but I don’t care nearly much about my stuff is just what the kingdom’s doing, so if you want to follow along with Pantano, man, is the place to go.

Rich Birch — Love it. Thanks so much, Trevor. Appreciate you being here today.

Trevor DeVage — Thanks my man.


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.