From Struggle to Success: Evan Courtney on Revitalizing a Church Campus Amidst Challenges

Thanks for joining us for the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Evan Courtney, the Executive Pastor at The Fields Church in central Illinois.

Have you ever experienced decline in your church or felt like everything was going wrong? Don’t miss this encouraging conversation as Evan testifies to the power of perseverance, overcoming obstacles that lead to new opportunities, and remaining faithful to God’s call.

  • The launch and decline. // When they launched their second campus, The Fields Church wanted the attendance at that location to be over 200, but that didn’t happen. They struggled to create an engaging Sunday experience and lacked strong leadership for the worship team. Then when COVID hit, they then lost their rental space. By the time the campus had found a temporary place to meet on Sunday nights, attendance had dwindled to 40 people who were essentially the volunteers handling the portable campus setup.
  • Finding leadership and a facility. // One of the things The Fields needed to put the campus on the right track was strong leadership to infuse their culture and DNA. Evan stepped in as campus pastor for eight months to be a consistent presence and help the campus move forward. Another thing the church needed was a facility that let them get back to meeting together on Sunday mornings.
  • Adjusting expectations. // It was still during the pandemic when The Fields began looking for a new location for their second campus. The expectations for finding a facility were a lot lower than the original launch of the multisite location. They no longer focused on needing a parking lot of a certain size or a certain amount of seating. Instead they focused simply on finding a building in which they could meet that had the minimum amount of space they needed for their Sunday morning service. Eventually they found an office building on a back road and converted it into a meeting space in about a week.
  • Relaunching the second campus. // Even though their second campus was on the verge of shutting down, the core group of people attending were committed to seeing the location succeed. They focused on inviting new people and saw growth from 40 to 200 people within a few months. Their growth was not due to any special strategies or magic bullet. They simply showed up, had services, and continued their regular activities in addition to training and motivating their members to invite their friends.
  • Breakthrough for the second campus. // During the pandemic, another local church approached The Fields about merging. After eight months of conversations, they decided to join forces. The merger brought in more people and a facility located on a busy street. As a result, their second campus saw significant growth, with 400 people attending Easter services and an average of over 200 people on Sundays.
  • Determine what you need in a campus pastor. // It’s hard to hire someone from a highly metropolitan area to move to a highly rural area, or vice versa. The Fields Church decided to hire someone from within rather than seek someone from outside the area. Campus pastors need to embody the mission of their church, have a heart for the community, and understand the culture and life in an area.
  • Three limiting factors. // As they look to the future, there are three limiting factors to growth that The Fields Church considers: Will the auditorium space, kids’ space, or parking at their current locations limit future growth? What would a launch and services in a new community look like for a third location?

You can find out more about The Fields Church at

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Man, I am so glad that you have tuned in today. Ah you know every week we try to bring you a leader who will inspire and equip you and today I’m super excited to have my friend, Evan Courtney, with us. He is executive pastor at a church that you should be tracking with. It’s called The Fields Church. Started nearly 100 years ago, it’s a multi-site church with two campuses in Central Illinois, plus church online. They really have a desire to be influential in Coles County, the county they’re in, also across all of Central Illinois, and then eventually be a valuable resources for other rural countries across the midwest or other other rural churches across the midwest. And they’re just fantastic people. Evan, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here today.

Evan Courtney — Hey thank you, Rich. I appreciate the resources that you always provide to other churches and inspiration that you’ve given us over the years.

Rich Birch — I, yeah, this is a fun one. I was I was joking with Evan ahead ahead of time because like we actually know each other where sometimes I have to like pretend like I know people on the podcast, but Evan and I actually know each other and have been journeying together for a while, and I wanted to bring this story to you and you’re going to you’re going to love it today.

Rich Birch — But, why don’t you fill out the picture? Kind of tell us a bit more about The Fields, kind of you know what did I miss there as we kind of got this thing rolling today?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so we are, like you said, we’re 100 year old church that probably for about 20 years all throughout the 80s and 90s was us was really kind of ah stagnant in attendance. So we averaged ah an attendance of about 150 for about 20 years.

Evan Courtney — Um, that wasn’t necessarily negative. What happened was leadership came in and was able to kind of clean and straighten up and kind of balance some things out, and kind of outlast some people. And so that was all that was all really healthy. Um, and so actually our lead pastor now, that was his father-in-law was here for 20 years. And then 2008 transitioned, he retired which was really good during that season. He realized that he was kind of at the cusp of, you know what, maybe he was downward trending as a leader. And so said instead of taking it, continuing to lead the organization down, he’s like you know what? I think I’m going to go ahead and pass this off.

Evan Courtney — And so we passed it off to our new lead pastor ,Travis Spencer. And since 2008 we took about two or three years to kind of look at our schedule and look at what the rhythm of the things that we were doing and we transitioned from being a church of ministries, of events, and we transitioned to being a church of a pathway a discipleship pathway that took about 2 years to do. And during that time attendance flat, which was okay, um, for us. And then coming out of that couple years you know 2010, since then we’ve just seen incremental, not explosive growth, but over the last thirteen years we’ve seen 5, 8, 10% growth every single year.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Evan Courtney — And so that’s kind of where we have been.

Rich Birch — Love it. And this is the kind of story I love because, you know, that kind of growth over an extended period of time, man, it really starts to snowball eventually. And it is um I don’t want to say easier but it is um, you know, it maybe is easier to get your hands around from a let’s serve people and integrate them. If all of those people, if you had 500 people all show up in one year, most churches would would you know wouldn’t be able to handle it. And so the fact that over these years you’ve seen that growth is is pretty amazing. Now we we connected a couple years ago when you guys were thinking about going multisite and ultimately that landed in ah The Fields launching a campus at another ah community ah, just kind of about the year before covid. Tell me that story, what, you know, kind of talk through what was the launch like and all that.

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so we actually weren’t even thinking about going into multisite. We were thinking about building a bigger building. Because we are running out of space and in the middle of conversations with the design build company, like the ones that we’re paying to build us million dollar building, they said to us, well have you guys, instead of building a building, if you want to reach people wouldn’t it be less expensive to just plant another location next to this neighboring community?

Rich Birch — Love it.

Evan Courtney — And it was interesting because it was coming from it as they essentially lost themselves business…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Evan Courtney — …by telling us, you don’t need to build million dollar building, you need to just launch into this other community.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Evan Courtney — And for us what it is there’s this community next to us that’s ten miles away. And so we launched the second location ten miles away. But because we’re in rural context, it’s a rival community. And so people from one community don’t travel to the other community, whether it’s sports, restaurants, they don’t do it. And so what we saw, we kind of looked at our data and we saw that we had 70 individuals that were attending our location from this other community. But all of those individuals, none of them were born and raised for that other community. They were all transplants. We had nobody coming, nobody serving, nobody giving, that was from, born and raised, in that community. And so that’s what we did was [inaudible] to gather your these people say, hey you know what? Let’s launch a location in your community. We know it’s ten miles away but there’s this invisible line that people aren’t willing to cross. And so we had a little bit of fear of if we launch a church that close, is it just going to take our attendance and just split in half?

Evan Courtney — Um, but what we have seen is that it really just is a whole different group of people.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s pretty amazing.

Evan Courtney — And so is new growth, not just dividing ourselves up.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. So the thing one of the things to underline here, friends, when we’re thinking about multisite is, you know, there’s like the stuff that’s on the map, like you can draw it out and it’s like the physical things. But then there are these like emotional, cultural, social, you know you know, lines on the map that don’t show up that really you only know when you’ve been journeying in a community together ah for a while. And you know there might be opportunity there that’s not that far away. 10 miles is not that far ah, but can be way too far for people to attend church.

Rich Birch — Now I want to kind of fast forward a little bit and um, you know, so the campus launched ah, you know, rah rah, we’re excited for that. But then at some point during kind of, you know, obviously you know we I had the first year anniversary, and then we ended up into covid, and there was like this this kind of sign that, Okay, maybe this isn’t going well. I don’t want to you know that’s me saying that. You know you’re you’re not saying that. But you know you came to the point where like, oh gosh this isn’t… can you describe what were some of the points when you look back and you say, oh this is evidence that maybe maybe things were not working, that you know we were we were struggling more in this this new campus than you would have envisioned. You know, we all do these things and envision them just exploding overnight, but that doesn’t always happen. What were some of those kind of points that brought you to the point where like, okay, this isn’t going well.

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so we is so when we launch, we didn’t launch at a higher number than we we thought. Like when we launched we wanted to our average attendance to be over 200 kind of be over that cusp. That didn’t happen. We don’t know why. I mean we had huge numbers at launch. But kind of looking back the the weeks and the months after that, one of the pain points that we had was we didn’t have great worship. And we kind of just pushed it out like, hey it’s okay, but really worship hurt us because we were doing video which was already, you know, is a little bit, is a lot different than live teaching. So the engagement’s a little bit different. And then our worship was really bad. We didn’t have a strong kind of a leader taking that. And in honestly a lot of it had to do with we couldn’t find a drummer.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — And so I just remember we’re piping in drums on a soundtrack…

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — …and everybody in that room knows…

Rich Birch — You could tell. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.

Evan Courtney — …there’s no drums but I can hear the drums. And it just, you know what, it just like the the experiential of the worship was just a very low. And kind of it just it wasn’t a bang of a service every single week. So we knew that was a tension point. And then we were then right when we ran into Covid we lost that space, that the rental space that was at a school, and so we lost that space and now we’re online. And when here where we were out in Illinois, like we were only online for about two months, and then it was starting to ramp back up for us to be able to meet in person. And when we got ready to do that, I think just the amount of energy and the amount of work was going to take more to relaunch to launch.

Evan Courtney — And so what we what happened was we lost some leadership during that transition. And so now we had no facility, um, we had no leader, and so we’re trying to rally who do we have left? Like we didn’t know who we had left because we’re doing online.

Rich Birch — Oh man.

Evan Courtney — And we just and so we called every single church in the community and said, Do you have a timeframe that we could do a service? One out of 40 churches that we called and said, yeah you can use our space…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Evan Courtney — …on a on a Sunday night. And so we did learn during this time that Sunday night services don’t work when you’re portable. So we were bringing in port… so we had people show up 90 minutes before service, set up portable gear, ran service on video…

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — …from the morning service that they could have watched online that morning on you know Facebook and Youtube…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Evan Courtney — …and then tear down and so people are getting there at 3:30…

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — …watching the video message of the person that was actually in the room, the lead pastor was in the room too because he had to help set up.

Rich Birch — Right. Oh gosh. Oh my goodness.

Evan Courtney — And they’re like, why is he not speaking? He’s in the back of the room, I can see him. But we wanted we were just in that rhythm like, Nope we said we were doing video.

Rich Birch — We’re doing this. We’re gonna do it.

Evan Courtney — And so that’s what we learned was like Sunday nights in our community didn’t work. Nobody wanted to be there. We had 40 individuals that were coming to service. And a majority of them were in their dream team their volunteer shirts and we’re like the only people we have is volunteers. So it was bad worship. We were forcing video teaching. And we had a bad time slot. And we we had 40 people.

Rich Birch — Okay, so friends, they’re just a bunch there. Like I think this idea of and sometimes this stuff is is clear in hindsight, understanding what is it that makes your experience, you know, understanding like, you know, we we launch these things and we try like, hey we’re going to try what we can on the music front. And ah but, man, it just didn’t live up ah to that. You know, we’ve got to think really carefully about those things, and sometimes they’re a bigger deal than actually we even know. They’re, you know, we we thought like oh we can make that work and it it doesn’t necessarily.

Rich Birch — So now there would be lots of churches I think at this point that, you know, so you’re down to 40 people, you know, video teaching, we got Travis showing up to set this thing up, mostly volunteers. Um, you know at that point there would be a lot of churches that would say, hey we’re just going to throw in the towel here. Like that’s you know that’s not going to happen. Well, you know friends, the reason why we have this on is obviously because they didn’t throw in the towel, and we continued. So walk us through what were some of what you know the milestones as you came out of covid that you look back on now and say, wow this was a linchpin decision change that led us to where now, friends, and we’ll get to where we’re at today. But things are way better today than than those 40 people. But kind of what were some of those linchpins kind of across the the the months you know after that?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so the big one was leadership. We had to get somebody. We had to get our culture and our DNA back into that into that church, of being online, somebody else’s building, we were losing some of that. So we had to get a leader in there. And I actually jumped in and and let it for about eight months. We just needed somebody on our team that was consistent, a face that they had seen, a voice that they had heard over the years. So that was one was the leadership.

Evan Courtney — The second one is facility. We knew we had to get back to Sunday mornings. And so we had to do whatever it took to get back to Sunday mornings. So the third one was for us to do that, we had to find a facility. And so our expectations of a facility on, for what we called was our relaunch of relaunching this church, the expectations were a lot lower than the launch.

Rich Birch — Interesting.

Evan Courtney — Like the launch we had this we we needed a preschool room, we needed an elementary room, we needed a lobby, we needed an auditorium that at least I had 300 seats. We need to have parking for those, you know, we needed a hundred parking spaces. All of a sudden we just kind of threw that out the door and said, you know, we just need to find a space. If we don’t find a space we’re done.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Evan Courtney — So those are the 3, the 3 main things.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, so on the facility piece, I love that idea of you actually lowered your expectations. You know, I think that’s that’s a keen insight. As you what what kind of did the minimum bar become as you were like okay, we’ve you know we we need to find something. Sunday morning obviously is the primary was you know the primary idea, but was it what else was in that mix of that conversation?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, we we just needed we needed to find us ah somebody that would rent to us during that time of covid. Coming out of covid there wasn’t a lot of spaces. We needed to find an auditorium that it could at least, or a space, that could at least hold a hundred people. A hundred adults.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — And then two rooms for kids.

Rich Birch — Okay, that’s amazing…

Evan Courtney — We didn’t care about parking. We could figure that out, right?

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — Like most those places are gonna have some sort of parking. And we didn’t we didn’t worry about a lobby.

Rich Birch — Okay, so did you…

Evan Courtney — We thought: adult space, two kids’ spaces.

Rich Birch — Right. And so then did you go back to the 40 churches? What what happened next?

Evan Courtney — No, so what we did is ah we actually we just, somebody caught we we kind of pushed out to our team and said you know what, just pray. Let’s ask God to open places. When we first initially launched ah two years before that we had already looked at all the places that were available. We we knew everything. And so somebody reached out to our team and said, hey what about this office space out on this back road. I just passed it; I saw there’s a “for rent” sign. What do you think? So we showed up to it and it was just an open office. And so we looked at it, walked in, and and they said hey do you want this? And we’re like yeah, there’s nothing else. There was maybe 25 parking spots…

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — …open office and 2 break rooms. And so we converted that. We took a week and converted it.

Rich Birch — Oh my… turned it around.

Evan Courtney — We took all of our portable stuff.

Rich Birch — Got all [inaudible] paint out in way we went. Yeah.

Evan Courtney — Yep, got to… yeah, got, we it was it paint, and then we had all over our portable gear. We just we just went from portable…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Evan Courtney — …and installed all that stuff as permanent.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — And so we used spandex to that we were using on hallways to to cover up stuff and we just created hallways out of the spandex. Used all of our portable chairs that we were using in elementary spaces and we just set those up. Um, it just gave us, we had to have a place for the people to go to that said, you know what? This is our church. And we actually ended up in a part of a neighborhood in this community that there wasn’t a church within a mile.

Rich Birch — How interesting.

Evan Courtney — And all of a sudden we put a sign up and people started coming and attending. And we’re like how did you, like how did you hear about us? We’re on this back country road.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — And they said, we saw the sign.

Rich Birch — Right. Wow. Wow.

Evan Courtney — That’s it?

Rich Birch — That’s it.

Evan Courtney — And so we started getting people from that neighborhood saved…

Rich Birch — No fancy Facebook campaign. No, you know…

Evan Courtney — No, no. And it was ah it was a marquee sign.

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Evan Courtney — Right. So I mean I was just sliding the letters in there, a service 10 am…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Evan Courtney — …and then just put our decal up. So.

Rich Birch — Wow. So the but you know part to underline there is I know there are a lot of churches that are portable. You know that this has been a challenging number of years. And I’ve said to multiple churches because they’re like we’ve tried everything we… there is no opportunity. And you know my pushback has been well, if the place you’re renting from today that’s substandard, if they called you tomorrow and said you can’t meet here anymore, you would you would get desperate and figure something out, right? You would figure out some sort of space. But because if you’re in this space that’s kind of almost working, like the Sunday night service was. It’s like it’s working but not really, you’ll just keep rolling until you draw a line in the sand and say no no, we we’re done. We have to find, you know, something else. So so then what happened next from there? So people start to show up. Ah you know things are looking a little you know, better. There’s like an uptick in excitement

Evan Courtney — Right.

Rich Birch — You’re still campus you’re still the campus pastor there. Ah you know what went on next?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, and so a couple of the other things to note real quick about the facility that we had to um, got were hard “yeses” before that became “it didn’t matter” was like ceiling height. It had it it had a nine foot ceiling. It was tile ceiling, and because of that we couldn’t do video anymore.

Rich Birch — Right. Wow.

Evan Courtney — Because you couldn’t get a big enough video screen. And so we flipped to live teaching out of the necessity of this thing is gonna die and we had to get it… It’s kind of like being in the ah ER. Ah, you’re just giving this thing, I see you’re giving this thing all the different hoses – the oxygen, the IV – and so we just said, hey if video is going to hurt this thing, let’s do live.

Evan Courtney — And so we started to do all those. And so what it was was we just Sunday morning continued to do Sunday morning, continue because of now you have your own building and it took work to create things into the building. We just saw an uptick of volunteers because they’re like, hey like they had their blood, and sweat, and their work equity into this building. So now is all of a sudden it became theirs. They became their identity where before they were at this rented school, they were at this borrowed church. All of a sudden it was like there ah an identity of, man, this is our place. And it didn’t matter that it was ah a bad looking building. It was actually the day that we put our sign up, the city called us and said, Evan, you can’t have church there. That’s ah, that’s zoned for high industrial.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Evan Courtney — And I said, well I didn’t I didn’t have a clue, like we were having this church and the church is dying. So what do you want us to do? And they’re like well you need to go through all this code paper. I’m like great, how long’s that going to last? And they’re like it probably takes three to four months. I’m like, well we’ve gotta meet. And he goes if you guys continue to meet, we’d have to shut you down, but that wouldn’t look good on the city if we shut down a church.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Evan Courtney — And I said, understood. And so we just continue to push forward…

Rich Birch — Wow Wow. Wow.

Evan Courtney — …and that’s kind of the momentum of people just continue to show. And they because they saw we only had 40 people, our church looked at each other and said if we don’t invite people, we’re done.

Rich Birch — So good.

Evan Courtney — And so that’s what it kind of was it like it was all these new people because they had all of a sudden they felt like like no, no, no, no, we launched this church. We’re not going to give up on this. And so it just began to invite people out of the woodwork.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Evan Courtney — And so we saw growth up to 200 people from that Oct…that September when we relaunched with forty, that easter we had 200 people.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Evan Courtney — And it was just it was it was I look at it now was it was we did average things over a considerable amount of time and it turned into above average results.

Rich Birch — Love it. Love it. What would be some of those average things when you look back in that period that you you know really helped reach people?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so the the average things was like, every parade in our neighborhood or our area that was in our city we got into.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — Just so they could see our name. Like that it was we we didn’t do anything spectacular – hay bales, throwing candy out, like nothing spectacular. We did that. Sunday mornings, no matter what, we’re having service. It doesn’t matter if there’s 20 people or 25 people – we’re having these teams, we’re having these monthly meetings. And so we just kind of went back to the grind that we were doing before just all these kind of ah small ah small events that we were doing.

Evan Courtney — We did a you know we do a halloween events that we typically did that was huge, and so we just scaled that back and said what can we do? Same with Christmas and Easter. We had to scale those back. But we just continued to do what we had always done before, and the kind of that just created those results and created those momentums.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. You’re speaking my love language. I know you know that, but you know like we have to just keep we have to keep doing these things. Keep keep pushing our people, you know we we talked about this so many times that churches that grow, they train, they equip, they motivate their people to invite their friends. And a part of that means as church leaders, we’ve got to keep thinking about it. What are we doing? What’s coming up that our people could invite their friends to? And you know all of those kinds of things are you know a piece of the puzzle.

Rich Birch — Okay, so now I know there was a significant “C” change here kind of as you continued. So you’re you know you’re at you know, kind of a weird place with the town. Things are like, okay, you got to get out. What happened next?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so during this whole process of right before Covid and during Covid, a local church had actually reached out to us. They were in the middle of their pastor was retiring and they had conversations with us that they knew that either they were going to have to go and do a pastoral search during the middle of Covid to try to find a pastor…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Evan Courtney — …to hire a pastor that they wouldn’t really know anything about. Um or they knew there was an opportunity they can merge with The Fields Church who they didn’t like everything about, but they knew everything, you know, they they knew us. And they knew the goods and they knew the bads. And so we were in the middle of covid having this conversation. They knew we were at a weak point too at this office building that we had renovated. And so they kind of but they knew overall the growth of The Fields Church and the excitement and and they wanted kind of really hitch themselves to us and become a part of what we were doing.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Evan Courtney — And so we went through a timeframe about eight months of conversations with them of them joining into our congregation.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Evan Courtney — So you take us just continuing to do the path every single week and meeting, doing the average every single week. Them coming along and saying, you know what, we want to join you. And so a part of that was they had a facility…

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — …that was across from Walmart, which is the busiest street in town.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s amazing.

Evan Courtney — They wanted to gift that to us, plus all of their people, to give those people to us. And so we were already on this high and already riding this momentum, and then they came in added to that. And so both of those things added together just created a greater impact. It just launched us years ahead of where we would be.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. You know, the the thing to underline there that we’ve seen time and again is typically in these you know merger or rebirth scenarios, like with this other church, um, you know they typically have been engaged in some kinds of other activity. They’ve been thinking about something else and this is like in the mix of it, right? And they’re you know they were obviously trying to wrestle through what do we do with and the the lead pastor issue is all is usually ah or is a significant catalyst. It’s like okay, either someone’s retiring or they’d like to retire. Or they, you know, they’ve been looking for a long time and can’t find someone. Um and you know, friends, I’m hoping you’re listening today and you’re like you may be pushing against one of these walls and you can take inspiration from The Fields to say, man, we just maybe we just have to keep going, just keep walking in this in the in the right direction.

Rich Birch — Okay, so bring us up to date today. So you know you end up moving into that location. They end up giving you the building, all of that stuff. So what does it look like today? Here we are you know summer 2023 you know what’s that what’s that campus look like? What’s kind of what’s happening there now?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, absolutely. So they merged with us, joined together. We launched huge with them, remodeled their facility. And so today this past easter we saw 400 people…

Rich Birch — That’s crazy.

Evan Courtney — …came out to easter and we are averaging over 200 people um, on a Sunday which is huge, huge for us…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Evan Courtney — …in the community, probably the second largest church in that community.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Evan Courtney — And we’re beginning to see an influx of people that are coming from… so that location to the west of it is where our our our other location is, the location that’s 100 years old. And so on the opposite spectrum, on the east side is all of these people that are coming.

Rich Birch — That’s great.

Evan Courtney — And so we’re just seeing an influx of new people, of people getting saved. But we’re not doing anything different. Like there’s no throughout this whole process, Rich, there’s no there’s no magic bullet.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — Like there was no oh like we unlock this special thing that nobody else knows about. I think it’s just like we’re showing up. Like we’re we’re showing up and having services, we’re doing Growth Track. We do growth track every single Sunday. You know, if it’s you know if it’s a on Mother’s Day, we’re doing Growth Track if somebody signs up for Growth Track. And where I think we’re doing less and we’re just continuing to do it, and kind of continuing to do our rhythm.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s amazing.

Evan Courtney — Um, and so that’s kind of what we’re seeing.

Rich Birch — Now it’s somewhere in there you ended up hiring Campus Pastor Mark – great guy – ah what how did you find that individual? I know I’ve heard you in other contexts like cheer for Mark, man, he’s been just such a critical piece of the puzzle. Talk us through that transition because you you know you listed leadership as number one reason, hey we got to fix that. You stepped in but then eventually we made a more permanent change there.

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so we’ve had… the the hard thing is we’ve had four campus pastors in the last in the since the launch of the location…

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah.

Evan Courtney — …in the last 3, 3-4 years. Some of that is covid, just you know we jumped in for a little bit. We had another leader that was their first season. And so I think what we’ve learned is that when we hired Pastor Mark, no pastoral experience. Um he had Fields Church experience, had been on staff doing creative ah creative ministries, had done facilities. But what he had was culture. Like he he knew the ins and outs of The Fields Church and loved the ins and outs of The Fields Church. Like he loved everything about The Fields Church. And we’re like well we can… and had the call to pastor, but had not ever been educated that way…

Rich Birch — That’s huge.

Evan Courtney — …or never had gone that season in their life. Had done military and was working at ah, a car dealership. Um, but who was volunteering and serving at The Fields. And we’re like, you know what? There’s something inside of him. He’s got the culture. He’s got the willingness to learn. And so we said, you know what, we can’t, it’s hard to hire somebody outside to move… I mean regardless, it’s hard to hire anybody right now, but to move to the midwest into a community, you know, that’s 2 hours away from any metropolitan area is very difficult. Um, so we were like we’ve got to look internal, hired internal. Um, and we don’t have the culture and the DNA push. Like nobody’s pushing against that of like I really don’t think we should be doing this. It’s more of a sense of like, okay I want to do this. How do I do? That’s a lot easier for us to lead as as executive leaders for somebody trying to push their own kind of agenda that sort of thing.

Rich Birch — Absolutely. Talk us through that um, kind of at a high level when you think about the percentages of… so I hear what you’re saying on the culture piece. Don’t miss that, friends. You know we’ve talked about that in other context that like campus pastors need to, you know, they need to bleed the church. They need to be like wow these people are fully they’re onboard. They love the mission. But then the other piece of this in this case, you know, Charleston’s the name of this community. They need to be Charleston people. They need to have the like kind of vibe of the community. If if you were going to be like 51/49, you know, 51% they need to be like Fields people type people, 49% Charleston type people or the locations you’re in or, you know, how would you kind of grade those two, or is it they just need to be both of those? Talk us through when you think about, you know, this this the kind of intangible side of campus leadership.

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so ours we would probably tip more towards the size of that community.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Of like they’ve got to they’ve got to have that feel. They’ve got to they’ve got to love living here.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — It’s not a horrible area. But I mean they just, like anywhere, they’ve got to love they want to be able to envision them growing their family and their kids up into this area. If they can’t do that, nothing else is going to work. Like we even when we hire people that’s the first thing is like hey do you feel like you can fit in here? I had an interview once with a guy that was from Houston. And within the first couple minutes we had a conversation like, hey do you think you’d be able to move here and live here? And he asked me this – he goes, would I need to buy a jacket for the winters?

Rich Birch — Ah, yes, you… at least one, at least need least one.

Evan Courtney — Yeah, yeah. And so I’m like you know what, that was our last conversation. I go I don’t think this is this isn’t going to work.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Evan Courtney — It doesn’t matter how great of leader you are…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Evan Courtney — …if if if you’re not able to adapt, or or to know or to feel or to love the place that you’re going to live is, you know, that’s that’s the big piece for us.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s a huge deal. And you know I think helping us and our, you know, our people get through those questions and understand that and to have the conviction around, you know, what what is it that makes leaders work in this part of the world. You know, I remember when I was serving in New Jersey, you know, very similar issues. You know, they looked a little different, but the same kind of thing. Man, you’ve got to like this kind of that in that case, it’s like northeast grind, you got to like the, like people here really do think that they’re like the most important people in the world and you kind of can’t fight them on that. Like if you’re from Georgia you can’t be up here and be like, well, you know people up here aren’t as cool as they are in Georgia. That doesn’t work. They’ll get shut down real quickly. And you know the thing is that’s a transferable principle regardless of where we are in the country. Every part of the country has that kind of cultural stuff that we’ve got to be aware of. And every part of the country—and I’ve I’ve joked with you about this before—every part of the country believes that they’re the hardest part of the country to hire people in.

Rich Birch — Like I you know I was with with some friends in Southern California and they were like, this is like really tough place to hire people. I’m like I don’t if yeah, that’s not true. Like you know, there’s lots, every every place has this. We all have this and, you know, I think it is true where where you are you know I’ve been in the communities you’re you’re in, and but it’s also true in lots of places. You know and and we and we sometimes, I think particularly if we’ve been in this community forever, it might be hard for us to get our head around how just how difficult that is.

Rich Birch — Okay, when we think about the future, so you look up over the horizon, either in this campus in Charleston, or future campuses or even in Mattoon, you know, what what what’s the future have for you? What’ll be some of the questions you’re asking, or things you’re thinking about as you look to future campuses, future locations, growth all that kind of stuff?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so growth pinpoints that we’re looking at right now is facility, and becoming a concern. Three limiting factors that we look at: facilities, is is there a limit in our auditorium space? Is there limit in our kids space? And is there a limit in our parking space? And if we have a limit in one of those three, then the rest kind of falls apart. And so that’s one of the things that we’re looking at both of our locations right now is what are what’s limiting us from growth?

Evan Courtney — The second one is is what is this we know how hard it is and difficult it is to do the third location, and the majority people stop at that second, so we’re looking at what does that look like. And for us it is a lot different than us doing the second because the second one we were able to look at this we already had this mass group of people in this inside community and and it was easy to get, you know, 75, 100 people to launch. Now we’re looking at a community next to us and we don’t hardly have anybody.

Rich Birch — Right.

Evan Courtney — And so we’re having to kind of reframe and think, okay, what does that look like? Does that look like us doing popup services for major holidays? Does that look at us starting small groups? You know does it look at us during outreach events? What does that kind of look like? So those are the two main things is that the facility and then and how do we launch this third location.

Evan Courtney — Because I feel like once we can get that third, the fourth is going to come easier. It’s going the third is going to help our our structure of our leadership and it’s not going to be of us versus them with the two locations, and the smaller and the bigger, but it’s going to kind of change the whole thing.

Rich Birch — I love it. So good. Well there’s… listen, friends, there’s so much we could talk about at The Fields. Um, you know we’ve focused in on this one story but there’s so many other things. I love what you guys do. The pumpkin fest thing I think is amazing. You know I’ve pointed people in that direction. I’m just going to leave that out there, friends – you’ll have to follow them to figure out what you know that’s all about. I think I think that your whole passion for and obviously it’s kind of been in the subtext of this conversation, but passion for these rural communities, I think there’s a lot of people who are wondering the same thing. Like man, there are, you know, none of the name brand big, very large multisite churches are going to plant a church in Charleston. It’s just not going to happen, right? And so the question is who’s going to say, we’ll take that. That’s ah our us. We’ll figure out how to do that. I love that your, you know, doing – there’s lots of stories we could we could tell there. But as we’re wrapping up today, any kind of final you know advice or anything you like to say to people as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Evan Courtney — Yeah, so if we as we look at this I think the thing is is to to not give up on really what you feel like called God has called you to do. And that you are gonna run into hurdles; you are gonna run into roadblocks. But if it is God giving you this call, and he’s going to work it out, and you’re gonna be stronger than where you were going to be before. If we wouldn’t have ran into these roadblocks, we wouldn’t have the loss of pastoral staff and leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are today with Pastor Mark, with this merge…

Rich Birch — So true.

Evan Courtney — …or with this building across the street from Walmart. So just continue to to push forward because you’re gonna run into roadblocks and just sometimes you go around them, sometimes you jump over them, sometimes you just just blast through it.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well I mean this has been fantastic. If people want to track along with you or with the church where do we want to send them online?

Evan Courtney — Yep. The easiest place is just to go to the website: and then all the socials are on there and you can find out information, email us, all of that information’s there.

Rich Birch — Love it. Really appreciate you being on today’s episode – thanks so much, man.

Evan Courtney — Thank you, sir.


  1. Hey Rich and Evan,

    I’m navigating issues of struggling finances at church, staffing, culture, and trust, but I was encouraged at the right time (while walking) with “don’t throw in the towel, stay the course, and remember your call by God.” I so appreciated the discussion with Evan and will likely revisit those ideas as the journey continues. For now, I picked up the towel off the floor.

    May God bless you guys!

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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.