Fast-Growing Follow Up: Insights from Pantano Christian Church’s Growth with Trevor DeVage

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. This week I’m talking with Trevor DeVage, the lead pastor at Pantano Christian Church in Tuscon, Arizona.

Trevor has talked with us before and is back sharing how to recognize opportunities at your church and embrace best practices to create space for growth.

  • Opportunities, not problems. // Pantano recently launched a third service to address parking issues and accommodate their expanding congregation. Aware that people were being turned away at the parking lot, the congregation was so committed to making space for more guests that they asked for another service to be added. Time changes for all services had to be shifted yet were welcomed with enthusiasm. Solving issues, like this one, that your church faces aren’t “problems” but rather opportunities to get your congregation to catch the vision.
  • Gather to scatter. // Pantano engages in Serve Our City, a practice where the church mobilizes its congregants to go out on a Sunday and serve in different capacities around Tucson instead of holding services. While it might be tempting to worry about giving when services are canceled, Trevor encourages churches not to miss this type of outreach opportunity. From bringing care packages to first responders to building almost 1000 bikes for kids, mobilizing Pantano Christian Church actually stirs people’s hearts to be more generous because they are reminded that the reason they gather is to scatter and serve their community.
  • Pantano Anywhere. // Trevor believes we can’t neglect to engage people online or we will miss out on reaching a significant portion of the world. One of the church’s strategies for online ministry is Pantano Anywhere, where they encourage people to launch house campuses in their own homes or businesses. Pantano provides training and tools for these individuals to lead and host gatherings and make a difference in their communities. 
  • Spreading outward. // Looking to the future, Pantano is exploring multisite options by partnering with other churches so their legacy can continue. By resourcing their Pantano Anywhere participants, they also look for pockets of people near each that could be targeted for a future campus or church plant in a different part of the state, country or world.
  • Simplicity saves souls. // Instead of looking at how you can do more, focus on how you can do less more effectively. Pastors and churches may be tempted to make things more complex because it is a form of job security. However complexity fails to empower others. The mantra Pantano communicates to their staff is that simplicity saves souls, complexity causes confusion. By simplifying, the church can reach more people and extend its impact.

You can learn more about Pantano Christian Church at pantano.church.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you’ve decided to tune in. Really excited for today’s conversation. We’ve got a repeat guest and this is like just a few months later so you know that there’s got to be something good coming up in today’s conversation. Super excited to have Trevor DeVage with us. He is at Pantano Christian Church – this church is located in Tucson, Arizona. They were started in 1961 and are one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Trevor is the lead pastor, been there just since 2022. This is really a follow up conversation from what we had back in the spring. We’ll link to the the conversation back in the spring and that was called it was all about growing, just kind of tremendous amount of growth. This is kind of the back end of that conversation I want to talk a little bit more about that in a little more detail. Trevor, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Trevor DeVage — Well, man, it’s good to be back. I think I joked with you right before we went live is a, man, you you must be at the bottom of the barrel of people, man, because ah…

Rich Birch — No, no.

Trevor DeVage — …you had to bring to bring me back. So ah…

Rich Birch — Not at all, no not at all.

Trevor DeVage — …really, really excited to be with you, man. I’m ah I’m a purveyor and a frequent listener a weekly listener of your podcast and so I’m a humbled, honored to get be in ah in this company… man, it’s good.

Rich Birch — I really appreciate that. Well I’m excited to to dive in. Friends I’d encourage you to go back, we kind of covered a bit of Trevor’s background and the history of the church in our previous episode. Without that some of this will be out of context, but would love to kind of dive in. So your church has continued to grow. Kind of bring us up to speed. How did the fall launch go? Where are things at on that front? Kind of bring us up to speed, you know, in the last six months or so, where are things at?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, so when we talked last we were two services with no parking left. Our parking lot was…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — …abysmal at best. People were being turned away the parking lot. We’ve added a third service actually um. And seasons in Arizona are weird because we we don’t really have seasons. We have two – we have ah hot and and slightly less hot.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Ah but actually school goes back mid-July here. So we um, we waited till about the third week of July and we launched a third a third service actually on Sundays and we actually shifted our service times so all of our services changed. We went to 8:30, 10:30, 12:30 and we moved about 5- or 600 people to that 12:30 service…

Rich Birch — Oh nice.

Trevor DeVage — …to alleviate some pressure on parking. And it’s held real steady there for the last last four or five months, which has been great. We also as we went into the fall I thought man we’re gonna get to breathe maybe a little bit. And well apparently will breathe at some point, I’m just not sure when the breathing’s gonna happen. Make you come up for like oxygen but we are we’re in such a sweet season right now. We’re um, we’re at 530 baptisms for this year um.

Rich Birch — Wow. Praise God. That’s amazing.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, we’ve got another baptism Sunday coming in two weeks we’ve already got 20 plus people signed up which means we’ll probably have another 30 or 40 that weekend. And and then we do we’re doing six Christmas Eve services this year. We’ve added a service from last year and um.

Rich Birch — Good.

Trevor DeVage — We do we do baptisms on Christmas Eve and last year we had 99 baptisms Christmas Eve so we’re we’re really excited to see what God will do in our Christmas season. We’re we’re about to shut our campus down next Sunday for a this coming weekend for we do a giant event called Serve Our City. So we shut down our campus services and we do worship service in the community. We go serve all over the city. So we’ll send out across the city of Tucson, partnering with 16 other churches in the area, and and we just go do service projects all over our city.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — So that’s been our last six months man like we’ve just kind of been our student ministries exploding. I think last time we talked I may have even shared, our first time I’ve been in a church where our growth was not predicated on children and students. It was actually adults specifically. Our student ministry has caught up massively. And about two years ago there was about 40 kids in our high school, middle school ministry last Wednesday night. They did a big event had over four hundred kids here as a part of that.

Rich Birch — That’s amazing. That’s amazing.

Trevor DeVage — Um, so we’re just seeing God infiltrate in some really crazy ways, and we’re just trying to shut up, get out of the way, and not screw it up.

Rich Birch — Great. Well you know unSeminary, we love to dive in on some of the details here. There’s a couple of those things I’d love to hear um, a little bit more about. So you mentioned parking and I so this is like, man, this is literally they do not teach this in seminary. But talk to me about your parking problems and was it just the shift to three services that helped that, or did you do anything else to kind of help with that issue?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, well the shift to three services had to happen because the problem in our parking lot is we’ve got parking, but we don’t have enough parking for capacity, if that makes sense.

Rich Birch — Okay, yep, yep.

Trevor DeVage — So when our auditorium gets to about 90% full our parking lot is 110 percent full. and so…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — …we literally our cops in security on site they’re like we’re literally watching 10 and fifteen cars a weekend just drive off the lot…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Trevor DeVage — …because I can’t find a space. Going to that third service we shifted we literally told our two services, we need about 250 to 300 per service to move to that 12:30 timeframe. Ah, we have a full cafe here that serves full breakfast and the whole deal. Well now we serve lunch. We have food trucks on site as well. And so we’re supporting local and our and our church as well. And so we we did the first weekend we had about 750 people go over to 12:30 and then it settled in right around 5- or 600 people a weekend are going to that service. And it’s alleviated some pressure but we’re already back in the space of all right, what’s a fourth service going to look like? It’s probably not going to be on Sunday…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — …it’s probably going to be a different day week. Um, and so really, that’s the biggest shift. It it drove us. We sat as uncomfortable as we could for as long as we could. And there’s there’s a principle of leadership I learned from my friend Brandon Beard. I don’t if you know Brandon down in Dallas. But um Brandon said let people sit as uncomfortable as they can for as long as they can because they’ll drive the vision for you.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — So we did we. We sat for three months with people going, hey when are we going to do something about parking? And I’m like well if you just give me a couple hundred thousand dollars we can go buy something.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — And um, but there’s nothing to buy. We’re trying to buy property for parking, actually…

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — …and there’s just nothing right now. And so people started going, hey when are we going to change services? And I was like, oh that’s a great idea, even though we’d already been planning it. And then about twelve weeks out we were strategizing internally and then about six weeks out we started rolling it out. I’ve never been in a church where people cheered for changing all service times.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Trevor DeVage — Like we said, hey right change all services and we’re adding a service and we’re going to feed you lunch, and people cheered.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — And people are filming videos on their phone and tagging us on social media of: how beautiful is it that I can’t get out of the parking lot at church. I’m like, usually people lose Jesus in that moment. They don’t they don’t praise Jesus in that moment.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — So um, that has really been the most indicative thing that we, parking dictated us having to go to a third service.

Rich Birch — Okay I love that. Let’s dive in on that on the third service stuff. What else what you when you look back at that kind of communication process. So I want to highlight you changed all the service times. You know, I’ve seen that over the years as we’ve messed around with service times. That’s one of those things I think we we get so nervous about it, like oh my goodness it’s gonna you know it’s gonna, you know, tank or whatever. But I’ve actually found it as a growth every time we’ve made those changes. It’s like we end up seeing growth because I think it’s like there’s something about the communication getting out in front of people and all that. But what were some of the other things that you did that you think helped make move people to that? Obviously there was the pressure behind it. Was there any other communication stuff that you look back on and say, hey, that was particularly helpful?

Trevor DeVage — You you know, I mean Easter last year was a really good indicator for us because…

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — …we had a parking issued Easter. Mother’s Day is actually the other largest day outside of Christmas and Easter here for us. And Mother’s day was a parking nightmare, and we we probably should have we probably should have made the leap then. Ah, but again I just went to let’s leave them as uncomfortable as we can as long as they can. And then we just hyped it up.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Trevor DeVage — And we made it a celebratory thing. It was not a what are we going to do? It was ah this is this is not a problem, this is an opportunity. We don’t have problems at Pantano, we have opportunities.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Trevor DeVage — Um, you know, parking is not a problem if you have if you don’t have enough.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Trevor DeVage — People think it’s problem. It’s an opportunity. Um, there’s something happening at our church when you can’t get in and out of the parking lot, when traffic is backed up down Houghton Road Now we tick off most of the neighborhood every weekend. Um, cops are out directing traffic and and so people see we’ve just, that’s become our language. These aren’t problems These are opportunities. There’s a lot of churches that would fail to have full parking lots and not know where to put people. And I’ve been in those churches I’ve been a part of those churches, and so to be on this side of it where it’s like what are we going to do? Well here’s the options and really our people here have been so excited about everything every option we’ve given. It’s lack of a better term is like shooting fish in a barrel, man. They just get excited about about God moving.

Rich Birch — That’s great. Sure.

Trevor DeVage — And then we’ve seen it in our other ministries too. Like student ministries on Wednesday nights, they were all together in one space running a couple hundred kids. Going into the school year they split middle school and high school back out into the the respected spaces. And it’s almost doubled our student ministry by just, again, adding more opportunity…

Rich Birch — Creating space. Yep, yep, for sure.

Trevor DeVage — We’re creating space and growth happens when you create space. And so I firmly believe, probably after Christmas, I’m trying to get through Easter of next year, which is early, that we’re probably going to add a Thursday night service will probably be our next. But um, those service times I was going to do 9, 11 and 1, keep the other two the same, and then just add a one o’clock. And my predecessor, Glen, I said hey I want your opinion on this. He goes, I wouldn’t do that. And it’s the first time he’s paused me.

Rich Birch — Um, interesting. Yeah yeah.

Trevor DeVage — He’s like we used to do a one o’clock, we barely got 2-, 300 people to come to it. Um, he’s like there’s something about that 1pm number that feels really late. Um, he said I would do 8:30, 10:30, 12:30. And I went back to our team I said, the guy that’s been doing this for the last twenty years here…

Rich Birch — Right. Yes.

Trevor DeVage — …it’s the only time he’s looked at me and gone, I wouldn’t do that. I’m like I think we ought to listen. And he was right. And for me that was a moment to honor him, but it was also a moment of his wisdom for him to go…

Rich Birch — Right. He’s been in the community. Yeah.

Trevor DeVage — …Yeah I want to help you; this will help you. And so finding that wisdom from Glen and then he was an advocate with our people too. He was so pumped up and excited and going around and telling people why this is a good thing. And so again it I’d love to tell you there was some massive crazy strategy. It was just we’re out of parking and we had to do something.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah. How far out did you go from between kind of communicating you’re doing three services, to three services, till actually doing it? How how what was that kind of look like?

Trevor DeVage — It was twelve weeks.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Trevor DeVage — We started priming the pump…

Rich Birch — Like, counted down and all that kind of thing. Yeah.

Trevor DeVage — Yep, then about six weeks out we got real real intentional with it. And then I I was on my summer break in June, and then July when I came back, they started the last week of June. And then I came back and I just kind of I blitzed it every week.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — I was like, here’s the deal. We need you to make room for one more because our whole thing is about the 1, right? And so we were like if we’re going to make room for one more to come, for your one to be here, I need you to move so we can make room for one more. And our people just did it. They were happy about it. They bought lunch. There’s food trucks there. They’re, man, they’re just happy people. They’re excited.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good.

Trevor DeVage — And the 12:30 crowd, man, I love them because the 12:30, they they want to be here if they come to 12:30.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Like it’s you know you’ve had some sleep, you’ve been able to go on a hike, you’ve been able to go to the store, you’ve had lunch. If you have not had lunch, here.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — And so man they’re just fired up, ready to go. They’re pumped up. And it’s it’s a lot of fun, man. But we we ramped it up for about twelve weeks to get our people there.

Rich Birch — Right. Okay, great. Um, so tell me about this Serve Sunday this idea of mobilizing people. We’ve seen this time and again in fast-growing churches that they one of their key strategies to build and invite culture is they want to be seen as a church that’s making a difference in their community. That they’re actively engaging in making the community that they live in a better place. And so great to see that that’s happening at your church. Talk to us a little bit about the history of that. What does that look like? Kind of fill out the paint the picture there a little bit.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, this is something that pre-dates me here. Something I’ve been a part of in other churches but actually it’s one of my favorite things we do is that it literally we’re mobilizing people to go out. And it’s funny because I’m sure you’ve heard this too. But I’ve heard other guys around the country go, Well what about your giving on that weekend? And I’m like, what about it? And they’re like well are people going to give if they’re not there? I’m like, we live in a mobile world. Are people give mobilely anyhow.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — We actually see our giving go up when that happens because people are a part of mission and vision. Um people give to what they can be a part of.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — And so they’re serving, like we’re in schools. We’re building 960 bikes that are going to be given to kids, almost a thousand bikes.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — Um, we’re in schools, we’re in playgrounds, we’re in local community areas. We have I don’t know how many groups we have that go to first responders, they go to firehouses, police stations, they take food, they take care packages.

Rich Birch — So cool.

Trevor DeVage — And so for us this is very synergetic. This is we just came off of a mission trip to Rocky Point, Mexico, which is every year we take a couple hundred people to Rocky Point, Mexico and built houses. Here we are three weeks later getting ready to just serve our entire city. Um, the history of this that I best I know and I’m only giving you just kind of Cliff Notes because I don’t know the total history. But it used to be strictly our church ran this for all the city. We turned to a local organization who now kind of disseminates for all the other churches. Some churches don’t shut down on Sundays; they they do a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We just find that getting our people out of the regular rhythm of Sunday to go serve in their city is a really good reminder of why we gather on Sundays. And we we just did a series called The Church Has Left the Building. And the whole series has been we we we gather so we can scatter. And week one of the series I literally got on stage and threw birdseed all over our people like [inaudible]…

Rich Birch — So fun.

Trevor DeVage — And it was great. People were getting it in their drinks and their clothes. And um, but at the end of that I just said, this this is why we gather not to gather for the sake of gathering; we gather to scatter into our community. And I told them week one, this leads us into Serve Our City. We’re going to scatter all over our city in a couple weeks in a massive way.

Trevor DeVage — Um, but then we we just finished up this weekend with this series knowing that next Sunday we’re going out, but then we also gave out um we’re going to play the world’s largest game of tag with our city. We’ve got cards that say, tag you’re it. And random act of kindness cards. So um, literally we created a website tagyoureit.fun. And it’s not branded with us and so we told our people go randomly throw kindness on our community and then give them a card that says now it’s your turn. And let’s see how far it goes in our city, and our country, and our state, um and beyond. And so ah for us building into our DNA, it’s not just this one big event that we’re gonna do. But it can be everyday events that we do, because we scatter every week when we leave this place. And so it’s kind of a both/and for us it’s like what’s the big thing that we’re doing, but there’s these little random acts of kindness that you can do every day and tag people to to just see life, you know?

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. Well, let’s so so I do coaching with churches and one of the things we do. We have this group called the Church Growth Incubator and we’ve had 3 or 4 of those churches this year have gone to 3 services. And one of the things I’ve said to churches over the years, when you go to 3 services and it sounds like you’re experiencing it. It it kind of is like just a stopgap measure. Typically it’s like you move to three but then right away you have to start thinking about what is next. It sounds like you’re thinking about a Thursday service or maybe another service time. Are there other questions on the horizon for you as you look, you know, campusing, other types of things? Where where’s where’s your brain going to next as you think about, you know, for Pantano?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah. Well for us, it’s both/and, maybe even another piece. Like our online ministry is very robust. Um, so our online campus engagement, we don’t we don’t count you if you’ve been on for like 2 seconds, we we don’t we don’t do that. We um, we really look for engagement and our engagement is high. We’ve got a couple thousand people that are fully engaged online each and every weekend. Our online audience is about and we do a 1.2 multiplier. We that’s we don’t want to go any higher…

Rich Birch — Sure, sure. Pretty conservative. Yep, yep.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, we we want to lean on the end of because Facebook doesn’t really let you see that metric. But like our actual church church um, what is it that Life Church gives out…

Rich Birch — Yeah, church online. Yeah, their tool. Yep.

Trevor DeVage — Um, we can actually see how many people are on with that. And so 1.2 seems pretty conservative. But we’ve got about 23-, 2400 people fully engaged online with us on the weekends. So that’s already robust and going. And we do um, every service is streamed live to that. We actually acknowledge those people online. So if you’re on with us um and you let people know in the in the chat, I can be like, oh we’ve got Rich on with us from here. And we’ve got people watching and we’ve got one guy that watches from France and Switzerland every week. We’ve got another guy that watches from Tucson every week.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Trevor DeVage — And we call them by name. So that’s one strategy is our we call it Pantano Anywhere. And you can launch a house campus inside anywhere. If you’re a college student you can launch it in your dorm. If you’re on the other side of the country you can launch it in your living room. And we actually provide you tools, we actually take you through training. There’s ah, a matrix that we use, Robert, who oversees all of our Pantano Anywhere stuff, he he literally leans in and goes, all right here’s what this means: you’re a serving campus, you’re a giving campus, you’re a living campus. And he actually meets with the, we don’t call them volunteers, they’re difference makers. And we so we have a difference maker that leads those. So if you were going to lead one in your home and you’ve got 10 people coming to your house, um, there’s a whole different training that we take you through for that. So that’s our first strategy we’re already doing.

Trevor DeVage — Um I think I think when we talked last time we also have a campus at a local mission here called Gospel Rescue Mission. And we have anywhere from 30 to 50 men and women that are in recovery, in a yearlong recovery program. They come to chapel on on Sunday nights to our service. We stream that down there. The next piece is we are going into multisite. And what is happening right now, there’s a local community close to us that has called and said hey this guy said, I’ve got a building that I’d like to give you. And I I like free I like free buildings. Like those those are great buildings to get.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — Um and it’s in a community where there’s really not a church presence. I’m not interested in putting campuses in a place…

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — …there’s already a viable church. Um, but we’ve got a couple hundred people that are driving from this community about 45 minutes away.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — And so the the viability of in the spring of this next year I would say probably more the fall of ’24 um that we could be launching a campus in this other community is is pretty substantial. Um, and really it’s going to be upgrades and updates to a facility that’s been sitting empty for a while. It is an old church building. It’s in a great community, but that’s that’s kind of our next. We’re actually getting ready go do a site plan for that. And um I like equitable equitable places given to us…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — …because with that just, again in the future if we decide hey we want to make this its own church in its own community, we can just launch that thing in a new community and it becomes a church plant versus a campus at some point. But right now we’re looking at multiple campuses. That’s our next kind of strategy.

Rich Birch — Yeah that’s great. And you know we’ve seen one of the shifts post-covid for sure has been towards that kind of thing. For yearst here was like 10, 15% of new campuses were, and that’s by like actual numbers not just like made up numbers, where we’re seeing those kinds of things where actually the 2022 numbers showed that 40% of campuses launched in 2022 came because of that kind of either gift or an extremely low purchase of a building. And so I would suspect you’ll have more of that. And I love the fall 2024 the kind of longer term. We’ve seen that time and again. the success of campuses actually. That initial launch course so taking time to build that. That’s, you know, that’s fantastic

Trevor DeVage — Well, you know…

Rich Birch — I Love the Pan…. Go ahead.

Trevor DeVage — Well I was going to say, I don’t know if you you’ve talked with Gene Appel about this…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Trevor DeVage — …but this has been a strategy for multisite. I mean they’ve got a Minnesota campus. They’ve got a Vegas campus.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Um, and they’ve been given millions of dollars of equitable property that um their their debt ratio to building ratio is very small.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Like they they’re able to do this for pennies on the dollar and launch really viable churches. And I would say too for some of your listeners that maybe you’re a part of a church that you’re you’re like what are we gonna do? We’re gonna have to close our doors. There are churches that you can partner with that will honor you well um, and and help the legacy continue. And um I like there’s a legacy aspect. It’s not we’re partnering now, we’re not I don’t it’s not hostile takeovers.

Rich Birch — No.

Trevor DeVage — These are partners. Um, and if you’ve ever talked to Gene about this. They do a really good job of honoring pastors and leadership in these churches. And it’s pretty beautiful what I think God is doing right now to unify the church…

Rich Birch — Totally.

Trevor DeVage — …in the United States especially

Rich Birch — Oh absolutely. For sure and and that yeah, definitely if you’re listening in, feel free to reach out. I can connect you with churches that are looking for that kind of arrangement. And and then on the on the lead church side, you know, there are very few church buildings that if, particularly if you got it debt-free, that you wouldn’t want to take on. Because essentially from a financial point of view, you take your cash flow, the equity that’s tied up in that building, and you can you can do renovations on that for you know, relatively low kinds of dollars. You could even write a mortgage over an extended period of time. It gets pretty easy to step in and make that kind of thing happen. So um, that’s exciting.

Rich Birch — Tell me a little bit more about Pantano Anywhere, like what’s the what do you think the end game there is? I know it’s like early, maybe, you know, as you’re thinking about that is that you think eventually those might become campuses, or is it just like, hey you want to service people wherever. Talk us through what that – I think that’s a super-innovative great, you know, great solution.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, I think it’s a I think it’s a both/and because what we’re looking at is if you say you’re a local business owner in a community and you’re like, man, I I’ve got a restaurant that doesn’t open till dinnertime, or it doesn’t open until noontime, well I could have church in my sports bar at nine o’clock on Sunday and promote that in the community. And we’ve got a Pantano Anywhere location now that is, we’re actually talking to a local restaurant on the north side here that they don’t open till like like one o’clock. And it’s like what is the possibility of us putting a campus? They’ve got 40 TVs. I’m like so all you have to do is turn on the lights and open the door. We’ll do the rest.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Trevor DeVage — You have to do nothing and then we just staff it with Difference Makers that we take through training, and put them at that location. So we’re looking at businesses, we’re looking at houses. We’re looking at all the above. But then the the other side to me in that both/and of that is if we find a pocket where we’ve got say 3-, 400 people that are starting to all have Pantano Anywhere locations maybe in their home and their business, and we start to target that. Then we go, wow we’ve got a big pocket of people that are online with us right here in this place now that’s where we start going, Okay, do we target a facility in this location? Do we do we look at a school? Do we look is there a church in the area that, man, there need to partner with and potentially come alongside of, and help them move into the next phase of legacy? Um, what does that look like? And so as we’re looking at these Pantano Anywhere locations, and that could be anywhere in the country, or anywhere on the globe… When I was in Ohio we were kind of doing very something very similar and we had um we had four house campuses in Ghana, Africa. We had 1 in Pakistan where there was 150 people that were gathered around a laptop…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Trevor DeVage — …and watched church in a bombed out building in Pakistan. And um and they were with us every week.

Rich Birch — Right.

Trevor DeVage — And we we would acknowledge them and they were they literally they we sent them t-shirts we like they were wearing their Christ Church t-shirts when I was there. Um it’s the same thing here with Pantano. We we literally I think anywhere around the globe because of technology. I mean just like you and I are doing this, right? I’m looking at you. We’re not in the same state.

Rich Birch — No.

Trevor DeVage — In fact, you know we we got our time zones crossed a couple times…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — …because we get technology.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — But but reality is is that you can do this anywhere and when you find a pocket that starts to blow up, you can go, we viably need to put something in this pocket now that’s not just on a screen but is probably in a community.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it. Yeah I love that. And you know I think our I love that you’re tackling that thinking through those issues. You know we all need to be wrestling with, you know, this kind of digital age we live in and I think that kind of solution like Pantano Anywhere for sure, you know, we should be wrestling with thinking about, particularly if you’re a growing church. So as you look to the future, any other kind of questions on the horizon? When you look up over, you know, where do you I know it’s like the dogs running down the street and, you know, you’re grabbed that grabbed it by the tail, ah, but, you know, what what do you think it about as you look to the future?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah I I think for me a couple things one the the mantra we keep preaching inside of our staff is simplicity. Like we are not looking how we can do more.

Rich Birch — So good.

How do we do less more effectively? So um, the mantra we kind of keep springing into our staff here is simplicity save souls, complexity causes confusion. Um.

Rich Birch — It’s so true.

Trevor DeVage — And the reason most most pastors or most church staff complexify things is because complexity is job security. If you’re the only one that can do the complex thing, we’ve got to keep you. I keep telling our team and our system if you make it complex, you will not be here very long. We need simplicity…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — …because if we’re going to reach. The way we’re reaching and then simplicity is key. That’s the first thing. I think the second thing um I’ve always kind of leaned towards what is coming in like what is the new thing in the world that we can use to leverage for the gospel? Um, and so I’m looking at, you know, this has been a big hot topic, but AI right now. Ah.

Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm.

Trevor DeVage — And a lot of people in church are scared of AI. They’re like, oh the bots are taking over. Um I got news, the bots took over a long time ago.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Trevor DeVage — Um, we’re we’re slaves to these bots. I look at one all day. Um, but how do we leverage things in the church with AI to reach more people in a shorter amount of time? And you know, like Chat GPT, um, like it’s I literally I’ve been messing with I’ve not even used it for anything live yet. But um I took all of my sermon notes for the last series and I put all my notes in and said write small group material with questions. And I’ve got enough stuff on the internet that I can say “and write it in the voice of Trevor DeVage” and um…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — …and then put scripture references and crosscheck. In it in 10 minutes it generated six weeks worth of small group material with questions. And I read through it I’m like, this is exactly how I’d write this and it just saved me.

Rich Birch — It’s close, hey it’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Trevor DeVage — And so I can go through that and I can edit it. Now I’m not using it. now I think you got to be really careful with this technology because um it it is going to produce other people’s content that you’re gonna say is your own and is not. And I think there’s all sorts of nuances in that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, you gotta work through all that. Yep.

Trevor DeVage — But but I think the church a lot of times we we kind of, like online right. I so I spoke at a conference three weeks before covid and I talked about the viability of online and if you’re not there now there’s going to come a point where you have to be, and if you’re not ready… All the people that conference thought I’d caused covid because they were like, did you try to prove your point? And I’m only like, no, but my point is now proven. Like if you were you…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Trevor DeVage — …online is, well that’s just streaming. We’re not gonna engage those people. Well three weeks later proved that if we’re not engaging people online, you’re missing 99% of the world and where they’re living.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — I think the same thing with AI right now. If we as the church are not, how do we pioneer AI in the church versus running away from it? And and so as we’re looking at digital campuses like what does that mean? Like how does that how does that play out for us? Um I even look at our production team, what we’re doing with video, what we’re doing with with graphics. I’m ah I’m a creative by nature so like Photoshop and Premiere right now, AI is a part of editing. And so…

Rich Birch — Yes, yep.

Trevor DeVage — If I’m able to cut down some of my staff’s time with Ai tools…

Rich Birch — Totally.

Trevor DeVage — …We can reach more people in a shorter amount of time, which I think is is biblical.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Trevor DeVage — Like how do we reach the most amount of people in the shortest amount of time? You can run from technology, you can lean in. Every side has a good and an evil side. Let’s use the good side of it to reach more people. So I think for me, simplicity and then leveraging the tools that are coming in technology that we can use to reach more people. Those are the two things I’m looking at.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. I love this simplicity thing there. You know there’s that old axiom that you can either have growth or you can have control. You can’t have both. And a part of that is the simplicity thing. It’s like, you know, if we so as we simplify ironically as we simplify, we can reach more people, scale faster. And actually connecting those two together, AI is a part can be a part of that workflow of like how do we… And very similarly anybody that’s in the content business which a local church is, you know, we produce a lot of content. We should be thinking about these tools, thinking about how we can use them. I keep saying let’s think about it like a megaphone or like a, you know, a speaker or a sound system. It’s just another tool to amplify the work that you’re doing. Think about how you can use it to extend the work that you’ve already done rather than like, it’s not going to replace you. There isn’t a day while it might someday. But it’s not going to replace ah, you know, you, Trevor, there’s still we we still need you. But, man, if we could in the if we could find a way to use these tools to get your message out in front of more people, man, I think that that’s a really wise use of our time effort and energy for sure.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, and I think if I think if you simplify, if you want to multiply you simplify, and that’s how you amplify. That that’s the aspect to it.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great.

Trevor DeVage — That’s the formula: multiplication through simplification is amplification.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it.

Trevor DeVage — And I think that’s…

Rich Birch — That’ll preach. That’ll preach.

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, like I could probably put that on a t-shirt for sure.

Rich Birch — Ah, ah, Trevor I really appreciate you, appreciate your leadership love to kind of catch up here how things are going at Pantano. Where do we want to send people online if we want them track with you or to track with the church?

Trevor DeVage — Yeah, if you if you want to track with Pantano, which is where I would go, is um, you can go to pantano.church um and find our website there. Um, or you can follow us um @wearepantano on Instagram and all of our social media. Um, and then for me I’m just @trevordevage everywhere um but if you go to Pantano, you’re probably going to find me there most of the time on all of our social media platforms. We have we’ve got arguably one of the best social media specialists in the country. She’s a rockstar and so um, you want to see how somebody does it well, go watch what Amanda on our team does – she she kills it. Um, but yeah, that’s that’s all our places you can find out. I got a website to trevordevage.com that I’m probably not touched in two years but it’s there. Um, you can go you can go see that and look at some past content. But I would go to pantano.church or wearepantano on social media and we’d love to connect with you there.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much, Trevor. Really appreciate you being here today.

Trevor DeVage —Thanks, buddy, appreciate it.

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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.