Mike Linch on Mobilizing Your Church To Impact Your Community




mikelinchThis week I was blessed to have Mike Linch share with me his take on the importance of churches forming relationships with and staying connected to the people in their communities.

Mike is a pastor in Kennesaw, Georgia. His church, NorthStar started as a church plant a little more than 18 years ago. Like most churches that begin as “plants,” their goal was to reach people who were not attending church. He recalls being told at that time by Steve Sjogren, who launched Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio,

“Don’t go to plant a church, go to reach a city.”

Mike and his team made a commitment when NorthStar was planted that everyone in Kennesaw would know who they were. How have they accomplished their vision?

Grass Root Model

Mike reports that NorthStar chose to make their presence known in Kennesaw, not through great gorilla marketing and advertising, but through a “grassroots” model of serving their community. They made service part of the very fabric of who they are, even before they held their first worship service.

In the early days of NorthStar, like many church plants, they had a limited budget to work with, but God opened the door for them to get started. The local high school, where NorthStar was to begin holding services, was hosting a Christmas basketball tournament. Mike and his team asked the school what their biggest need was, and they filled it. NorthStar ran the tournament hospitality room for the coaches, officials and visiting teams.

What that initial act of service was all about was beginning a relationship. It taught NorthStar they exist not for themselves, but for others. And not just one time. All year. All the time.

Over the years, NorthStar’s relationship with the schools of Kennesaw has continued to develop. Trust and friendship have grown. For each of the schools in the area, they have helped with hospitality-related events. Some examples:

  • Football concession stands: Football is big in Georgia. Concession stands are typically staffed by parents of the band, cheerleaders and players. NorthStar volunteers run the concessions so parents can be in the stands, watching their kids.
  • Special Needs: Kennesaw has a large population of special needs kids. Mike’s church has volunteers to sponsor these children and helps provide hospitality and supplies for dances and other events. They provide meals for bus drivers who help route the kids where they need to go.
  • Volunteer Pastors: NorthStar provides pastors to serve as counselors on school campuses and on call for the schools.

Many, if not the majority of churches today, have enough trouble filling their own volunteer slots. Pastors may have enough to do just getting their weekly services off the ground. It most likely goes without saying that love for Jesus is the over-riding motivating factor in serving this way, but apart from that . . .


  1. Strategy: Mike explains that outreach and service are part of NorthStar’s strategy. It’s what makes them stand out. He puts it like this:

If you’re not remarkable, you’re invisible.

It used to be that churches could be set apart by other things. Maybe a contemporary style of worship made your church different. That’s no longer true. Most churches today offer praise bands and some sort of alternative worship. People don’t wake up on Sunday morning and decide to visit your church for reasons like that. We wanted to be remarkable in our service. We wanted to let people know we care.

  1. A.R.: This is part of NorthStar’s strategy. This is an acronym they borrowed from “Coke” and it means “within arm’s reach.” Mike sums it up like this:

We wanted to throw down a flag and say,

“We’re here until you need us and we’re staying until you do.”


Mike is willing to bet if you take a gifts and talents survey of your members, 80% of them will have the gift of helps and service. Not everyone is able to teach or administrate, but many people can serve others and they truly want to channel their gifts in service to Jesus. This opens up a way for them to do that.

A by-product of making a commitment like this is that you need to realize that you can’t be doing big events on your own church campus every day or maybe not even every month.

For their bigger events, NorthStar advertises their need for volunteers in their services. Sometimes, the need for help is passed down through their small groups. All of the sign-ups are done on-line.

Mike’s church is doing whatever they can to make their community the greatest place on earth to live. He paraphrases the words spoken by Jeremiah:

“if the city prospers, we all prosper.”

To learn more about NorthStar’s vision of serving in the Kingdom of God, visit northstarchurch.org or you can email Mike at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @mikelinch.

Episode Highlights

00:33 // Rich introduces Mike Linch and welcomes him to the show.

01:08 // Mike tells us how NorthStar Church began.

03:31 // Mike gives examples of how NorthStar Church supports local schools.

05:51 // Mike talks about NorthStar’s strategy.

08:40 // Mike talks about the process of signing up volunteers.

09:53 // Mike talks about other organizations NorthStar supports.

12:23 // Mike talks about the vision of NorthStar – “The fiber of the community”.

13:08 // Mike talks about the roles of the community pastors.

14:53 // Rich shares his thoughts on community outreach work.

16:03 // Mike and Rich discuss the impact of churches.

17:36 // Mike advised people to start small and offers an example of a volunteer who started a ministry called HOG.

20:12 // Mike offers contact details.

Episode Transcript

Rich – Hey happy Thursday everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Thanks so much for listening in, honored that you would take some time out as you prepare and get ready for this weekend at your church.

We’re super privileged to have Mike Linch with us today, a pastor from NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Georgia. Mike welcome to the show.

Mike – Thanks Rich, honored to be on here and glad to be back with you.

Rich – No I’m so glad to have you here. Now one of the things I love about NorthStar is I think a lot of churches talk about kind of being engaged in the community but Mike and his team at NorthStar, really for their whole existence, really even before Mike was there, really has been so committed to connecting with their community. So we’re looking forward to digging into that today. Why don’t you give people a sense of NorthStar? Kind of tell us the story there, a little bit about your church.

Mike – Sure absolutely. We began like most church plants, we began as a church that wanted to reach people who didn’t go to church and that’s sort of the mantra of all church planters and we’re embarking on the journey. We’re a little over 18 years old. When we started 18 years ago there weren’t a lot of guys out there doing it, but one of the things that was told to us early on by a guy named Steve Sjogren of the Cincinnati Vineyard, Steve said, “Don’t go to plant a church, go to reach a city,” and I’m telling you, we really sort of bought that heart and we made a commitment that nobody outside our [Inaudible00:01:40] Kennesaw [Inaudible 00:01:40] County Atlanta may know who we are but we’re committed that everybody there does know who we are.

Rich – Right.

Mike – And we chose to do it, not through great grower marketing and advertiser, we chose to do it through serving, sort of a grassroots model of serving our community. So it’s something that we stuck with, even before our first worship service, we started doing it and it’s become part of the culture of who we are.

Rich – So in those early days, what did that look like? Even before you started services or right when you were just starting out, what did it first look like and then obviously we’ll kind of talk about where we are today?

Mike – Absolutely. Well you know back then, for all of us in church planting you have no money.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So whatever you do you’ve got to have it built with zero cash.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – So we went to a local high school that we were going to be meeting in and just said… they were having a Christmas basketball tournament, I’ll never forget it and we went and said, “Listen, what’s your biggest need during the tournament?” They said, “We need somebody to run hospitality for us, the hospitality room for coaches and officials and visiting teams.” So we volunteered to run that and that was how we got in.

Rich – Fantastic.

Mike – At the end of it I remember them going, “Why would you guys do that?” and the answer was, “Well you said you needed help.”

Rich – Right.

Mike – It began a relationship that goes on 18 years later that’s much deeper and stronger now than running a Christmas basketball tournament, but it taught our people, we are not here for us, we’re really only here for other people and this isn’t something we’re going to do once a year, it’s going to be something we do all year, 365.

Rich – Kind of keeping with that school example how has your relationship, because I know it’s grown and developed over the years, how has that grown from something simple as, “Hey we’ll help run the hospitality room,” how has that continued to develop over the years?

Mike – It’s a great question Rich. It’s developed in big ways, it grows like a child. There’s trust developed, there’s friendship developed. Now for each of the schools we do things with hospitality, we’ll go in during football season, which is big in Georgia on Friday nights, we go in and run concession stands, so parents can go and watch the game.

Rich – Right.

Mike – Usually it’s the football player, cheerleaders’ parents/grandparents that are running the concessions and they miss their kids’ performance. We go in and say, “Look we’ll take care of that, you guys go and enjoy the game.”

Rich – Wow.

Mike – It’s goodwill, it’s friendships that are built. That to hosting special needs dances for the local high school that we help raise resources with cookies and drinks and things like that for the school and they have about 600 special need students and we help sponsor that dance and we feed all the special needs bus drivers to mentoring to being on principal search committees to volunteering in classrooms to having a dedicated student pastor at each campus, we call them Tribe Leaders that serve that campus. Rather than just saying we do a bible study there, the school knows they can call that person as a person that can come in and come alongside to help them with events and projects and things going on.

So whatever the school needs, like in a few weeks we’ll be hosting a fifth grade carnival because who works it? Fifth grade parents work it. Fifth grade parents want to be with their kids, so we provide all the volunteers to come in.

We have the volunteers, they have the people in the community that may not go to church anywhere, so it’s a great bridge for us to go and meet people. We don’t hand out flyers, tracks, we’re there with a smile and serving until somebody asks why. When they ask why we get to give them a great answer.

Rich – Now, so this is the cynical side of me and there is someone else thinking this, I don’t actually think this, but why would you do all of that? That’s a tremendous amount of external work. I know a lot of church leaders are listening in and they’re like, “Gosh I’m having a hard time running weekend services, the thought of running a fifth grade party at a local middle school, I’m not sure I could do that, why would you keep doing that?” I understand because we love Jesus…

Mike – Right.

Rich – But tactically or outside of that how have you seen that impact your ministry?

Mike – Well I totally understand that and we wonder the same things sometimes. So I think we would all follow that boat.

Rich – Yeah.

Mike – I would say it’s a strategy for us and it’s our strategy to reach our community. Everybody hits mailboxes with flyers. We’ve got a church in every school in Kennesaw, Acworth, Northwest [Inaudible 00:06:09] there’s a church in every school.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So the question becomes, it’s a Simon Sinek question or a thought. He said, “What makes you remarkable…” His statement was, “If you’re not remarkable you’re invisible.” For us it’s our remarkable. It’s what makes us stand out because we realize what most other church leaders realize, people don’t get up on Sunday morning and go, “God I think we might try a new church today.” They usually try a new church when their life hits a wall.

Rich – That’s so true.

Mike – When their life hits a wall we want to be the church that they go, “You know, I don’t know much about them but I know this, I ran into them at the school, I ran into them at the ball field.”

[Inaudible 00:06:52] we had a guy that was a consultant with Coke Cola meet with us and he said the early strategy of Coke Cola was, they called it WAR, within arm’s reach. Wherever you go in the world you run into a Coke product and you run into a Coke machine which is true.

Rich – Yeah.

Mike – He said to us and this guy was not a believer, he said to us, “I would think you would want to, in this community, be so well represented in every facet of the community, whenever someone turned around they ran into NorthStar.” For us, we identified those areas as schools, businesses, ball fields, local government. In those four areas we wanted to throw a flag down and say, “We’re here until you need us, but we’re going to serve you until you do.” It’s been a model of… and what we found out Rich and I think a lot of church leaders found out, you know, if you do a spiritual gift survey of your people, 80% had the gift of helps and service. So for a lot of people it unleashes them to do a method of evangelism, they’re not going to do by knocking on somebody’s door and they’re not going to do by handing out a track.

Rich – Right.

Mike – But they go and can serve somebody and love somebody. Now the by-product of that is, you can’t put on a gazillion church events.

Rich – Right.

Mike – You can’t do something on your campus every day of the week.

Rich – Right.

Mike – It’s got to be something that you say, “We’re committed to doing this,” and people love it, people love it and we love doing it.

Rich – What does the structure of that look like? So let’s say you’re going to help with an event at the local school, how do you actually structure getting volunteers and mobilizing them? People can get a sense of what that looks like within their own church, but what does that look like when you’re doing this kind of ministry?

Mike – It’s all pretty much… we’ll advertise some of the bigger ones, we’ll advertise our services, but a lot of the smaller things that we do during the week is for instance, we do special needs buddies. There’s a local field called Horizon field and they do kickball and baseball for special needs kids. We provide a set of buddies, we don’t provide the whole thing, but we provide a set of buddies that go every week. We do all of our signups online.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – So they’re all on our website at northstarchurch.org and I believe it’s /community and you can see. So people go to our website and they sign up there for all these different opportunities that we have and people signup and volunteer and there’s a database that we have of volunteers our community staff or email saying, “Here’s our [Inaudible 00:09:24] if you’re interested go to the web and signup. Sometimes we do it through small groups, sometimes we do it through our student ministry, our children’s ministry. So each one’s a little different but they’re all web based, everything is based off that and that’s how people get signed up for it.

Rich – Okay very cool. Now you had mentioned schools, I can see lots of opportunity there, that one seems real straight forward to me, I can understand that. You also mentioned businesses and government, any other examples of how you’re serving in those domains?

Mike – Sure, we partner, just recently, our Acworth Police Department, which is a neighboring city to us. They were hosting a get together to open their new police station. Our community pastor called them and said, “Listen, let NorthStar come in and celebrate with you and we’ll provide all the snacks and drinks and man the hospitality tables as all the local officials come in.” That was one way.

We host the local business organization, Acworth Business Association. We host that on our campus. We talked last time about leveraging your facilities.

Rich – Yeah.

Mike – So we leverage facilities for them to meet, we’ll also partner with them. A local this weekend is a big festival in Downtown Kennesaw. We provide resources and we’ll provide people to go in and work with that and help with that. So our goal Rich is to do whatever we can to make our communities the greatest place in the world to live.

You know Jeramiah said, “If the city prospers, we all prosper.”

Rich – That’s so true.

Mike – So more people move in, the school’s test grades are better if we provide mentors, which means our community becomes more attractive for people to want to live in and serve in.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So by doing that I think it’s a way that we can make everybody better.

Rich – Yeah, part of what I want people to kind of hear, just even on the tactical side and we found this at Liquid. We do a number of community outreach events and over the years we’ve done a number of these renovations for community service organizations, where we’ve gone into soup kitchens and battered women shelters and transitional housing and it’s funny because I’ve joked internally, I’m like there’s like a team of people that have the gift of interior design and then we kind of spend a weekend and do an extreme home makeover there and that’s been incredible for us. That skill, we’ve transferred from kind of a bunch of different community service organizations and built up all kinds of goodwill, it’s been fantastic and the interesting thing there is, those volunteers, those groups of people, they learn how to do that, they understand what that looks like, and then you could take that and move it to multiple locations.

Mike – Absolutely.

Rich – What I hear you guys saying, even on the hospitality side, which is a number of the things you’ve listed, “We provide hospitality at this, at this, at this,” which is a similar task, it’s obviously different everywhere you go, similar though, so it becomes easier to replicate, easier to get people to plug into it.

Mike – That’s correct and you unleash people and here’s the beautiful part for churches. It is a six, seven day a week reminder, it’s not about us.

Rich – Right.

Mike – It isn’t about your four walls, it’s easier to remember when you’re in school, but when you move into a building it’s easier to begin to think, “Well they’ll all come to us.” Really?

Rich – Right.

Mike – They’re not supposed to come to us, we are supposed to go to them and it’s a way to do that and we say, “We don’t want to be a part of the community, we want to be a part of the fabric of the community,” that if we were gone we would be missed, our influence would be missed. So that’s the way we’ve chosen to go.

Rich – Now you mentioned a couple of times the community pastor, tell me about that role, because you have actually staff resources associated to this. Tell me about that.

Mike – That’s correct. Yeah we’re so committed to it we said we were going to designate two fulltime staff members that serve the community.

Rich – Oh man.

Mike – So one of them also works in our men’s ministry but he works with government and businesses and schools. So anything in that arena falls under him.

We have another lady on our staff that works anything on the social end. So she works with the local social organizations, she works with local foster the DFCS system, we provide socks and underwear. When a child gets taken into foster care, many times they’re taken from their home, they don’t have toiletry items, they don’t have socks, they don’t have underwear, they don’t have the diapers. We do a monthly big give as a church. One of my favorite things we do, a monthly big give that supports one of those organizations, so people can bring in socks and underwear one month and it goes to that DFCS organization or to foster care.

The world that has opened to us, we didn’t even… as a pastor I didn’t even know it was there.

Rich – Right.

Mike – I’m not the guy leading it, we’ve got a whole other team of people leading it and coming up with the ideas but what it’s taught our people, for somebody who’s never given a financial resource to a church, they go shopping with their family to get toiletry items for Easter, for local children. Well they learn to give and it’s small but it teaches them to give.

Rich – Absolutely.

Rich – Then sometimes when that offering basket comes by or to the backdoor they go, “You know what, if I’ve given this and we didn’t miss it less, let’s begin to give another way.”

Rich – Yeah.

Mike – And the goodwill that it’s built in the community has been unbelievable.

Rich – Absolutely. You know, I’ve had other church leaders and you know I’m from Jersey so you can sometimes be a little more forthright. I’ve had other church leaders kind of challenge and be like, “Gosh why do you do that stuff? Why do you do community outreach it’s a waste or whatever?” and I’ll say, “Listen, I think it’s what God calls us to do. I think the Bible’s pretty clear on it that we’re called to serve the community. We’re supposed to go out and make an impact.”

But for a moment, and this is to other church leaders, for a moment let’s say you don’t go there theologically, for whatever reason you really are in the belief that, “No everyone should just come to us.” Put this in the same category as like fancy lights and good music because it literally builds bridges to the community, it literally is one of those things. It’s like, you know, like secret services in the ‘80s, it’s the kind of thing that engages the community at a level that you can’t… you know, there’s just no other way to get that. The reality of it is that most people in our communities aren’t waking up this weekend and saying, “I wonder what they’re talking about at our church this weekend,” they’re just not thinking that.

Mike – That’s exactly right and here’s the other hard part for all of us.

Rich – Yeah.

Mike – When we started in ’97 we were very unique. We were contemporary worships, we were meeting in a school, there’s nothing unique about that anymore.

Rich – Right.

Mike – In fact the reality is 98% of the churches you walk into are going to look very similar. Either they’re going to be a more traditional model or they’re going to be the more contemporary, current, new model.

Rich – Right.

Mike – But outside that they look alike.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So really the question becomes, what do we do to look different and not only what do we do to look different, what are we doing to make an impact? If we were to disappear tomorrow would anybody even notice besides our church members?

Rich – Right.

Mike – And for a lot of us, the reality is nobody would ever know we’re gone.

Rich – Right.

Mike – We’d just close shop, our influence was never there anyway.

Rich – Yeah absolutely. You know I had a friend years ago who said, I was asking him, “What’s your vision for the church and how would you know you’re making an impact in the community?” They were a multisite church and he said, “You know what would be amazing”, he said, “it would be incredible if, when we announce we were opening a new campus in that location, if the property values in that location went up, because the community recognized when that church is there it makes such a big difference,” and I was like, “Wow that’s a huge vision, that’s a huge vision for us to be thinking about.”

Well anything else about kind of engaging our community before we kind of wrap up for the day? This has been an incredible conversation. Anything else we should be thinking about as we kind of embark on this?

Mike – I would just challenge people to start small. If you’ve never done it start small and start by your church. I have yet to meet a group that says, “No,” when you go offer to help.

Rich – That’s very true.

Mike – And I’ve heard people say, “Well we’re an older church and our seniors won’t like that.” What we have found, our greatest volunteers and we don’t have tons of them because of the style of church we are, but our best volunteers are those people, because they have time. They’ve retired, they’ve created…

We’ve got a guy, he got saved at 62.

Rich – Nice.

Mike – Unbelievable story behind this guy but he began a ministry called HOG and it’s helping one guy.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – So they’ll identify a man in the community that’s through cancer, lost his job, they’ve lost a loved one and he’ll put on a dinner in their honor. All the money that comes into that dinner he’ll charge everybody a donation of $10. That will give somebody at the end of the night $1500.

Rich – Wow, so cool.

Mike – And say, “We just wanted to do this to let you know God loves you, NorthStar loves you,” and that’s a guy who is all about… I mean he lives, eats and breathes, anytime we’re doing something, he’s got time now he didn’t have 15 years ago. So I believe for the young couple and the mom who’s wanting to teach her kids things, to a student [Inaudible 00:19:00] to a senior, there’s an opportunity for everybody to go, “It’s not about me.” We say this all the time Rich and I’ll finish with this, I believe the greatest definition of spiritual maturity is others. When we begin to see life’s not about us.

Rich – So true.

Mike – When we begin to see that it’s not about what I know and it’s not about how saved I am. I’m saved, I’m going to Heaven, that’s secure. Everything from here isn’t about me, it really is about serving someone who doesn’t know yet. If that serving opens a door which it has for us, why not do it?

Rich – Absolutely. Well this has been great encouragement, even to start real small with what you said, you know, go to the local school board, maybe try to get a meeting with your mayor and say, “What can we do to serve? How can we help?

Mike – That’s right.

Rich – And really come with open hands and say, “Hey we’re willing to do whatever you need done,” and you’ll be amazed at what will take place in your community.

Mike I really appreciate you being on the show today, you know we’re out of time unfortunately but if people want to get in touch with you or with NorthStar how could they do that?

Mike – They could always go to our web, northstarchurch.org or they can email me directly Rich at [email protected] or on Twitter @mikelinch.

Rich – Great. Thanks so much Mike, I really appreciate you being on the show today.

Mike – Thank you Rich. Have a great day buddy.

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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.