Inside a Church Growing from Less than 100 to Almost 2,000 in 5 Years with Mark Zweifel

Welcome to this week’s episode of the unSeminary podcast. Today Pastor Mark Zweifel of True North Church in Fairbanks, Alaska is joining us.

True North is an 80 year old church and when Mark first came to the church, he was the fourth pastor in four years and there were fewer than 100 people attending. Almost five years later the attendance grew to over 1600 on Sundays.

Mark is with us today to talk about the journey that led him to apply for pastoring at True North and what were some of the early steps Mark took serving at the church.

  • Focus on the congregation to grow. // One of the first things Mark did when coming on board was to shift part of the church’s focus to the kids and youth. After his first month, he hired a dynamic kids’ pastor to champion this area of the church. Fairbanks also is home to one of the major universities in Alaska and drew a number of college students to the church as the school year started. Having young people back in the church sparked life in the community. Additionally, there are two military bases in the area and a continual flow of new families looking for a place to worship brought an influx of people the first few months Mark came on board.
  • Developing a Gospel Road System. // If a church looks nothing like its community, it’s dead. The average age of the church when Mark started as pastor was 55, but the average age of the community they were in was 29. So the church updated its facilities and targeted that younger age group, especially remodeling the kids’ facility in order to better serve families. As Mark describes it, the church was invisible in the community, so they had to build bridges and roads from an invisible church to a culture and community that was disconnected from the church.
  • Teach the people to share. // The first thing Mark did in order to develop the culture of the church was to share the gospel message every Sunday in the exact same way. His goal in this teaching is to model sharing the gospel in a way that the people of the church can learn to share it with their friends. Mark tells his people that he loves them and God loves them and there is nothing they can do it change that. He continually encourages them that if they think the things they are learning in church would benefit a friend, to please invite them.
  • Get out of the building. // True North also tries to partner with their community whenever they can. Whether it’s sponsoring the coffee and doughnut break at their local school districts or partnering with non-profits in the city around Christmastime. At Easter they ride a couple of pink mopeds they own and leave Easter bunnies with notes around town inviting everyone to the church. The goal is to get out into the community, share God’s love, and raise awareness of the church.
  • Reach out to guests. // When new guests come to the church, they fill out a guest card and then receive a text from the church within an hour thanking them for coming. The next night they receive a phone call, a letter a few days later, and then also a postcard. True North uses a Grow Track method for spiritual growth by teaching guests about the church and how they can take next steps in their relationship with Jesus.
  • Resources for your church. // Mark created the website TheGospelRoadSystem.com to give help to church leaders. It offers downloads on marketing, prayer, and communication strategies. He also created a new website, Churchpacity.com, to help those in rural settings maximize their community and attendance.

You can learn more about the church and Mark at the church’s website TrueNorthAK.org.

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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.