Phill Christiansen gives practical insights from a turn around church that went from 500 to 2900!


Hello, everyone, and thanks for joining us for today’s unSeminary podcast. We’re excited to have our guest Phill Christiansen from Canvas Church in Montana.

Phill has been at Canvas Church for about four years and he has seen it grow quickly and thrive during that time. The church was on decline when Phill arrived, but a new lead pastor, Kevin Geer, had recently come on. Together their team helped shake up the church and introduce new things that enabled people to experience God in a life-changing way.

Phill joins us today to talk about the changes Canvas Church made to connect with their Montana community and ultimately grow the church.

  • Create a vision. // Phill arrived at Canvas Church not long after the lead pastor did. The church membership was on the decline and the leadership knew things had to change. Pastor Kevin came to the table with a vision for what needed to be done and so the rest of the team used that vision to create a plan to put it into motion, ultimately helping people to experience God in a life-changing way. There were no side projects that didn’t correlate with that vision; everything fell under the umbrella of that plan. Phill explains that the clarity in that vision helped them make decisions about what needed to be done. Everything became a mission to reach people.
  • Create strategic tension. // The church was once called Kalispell Christian Center and had been known by that name for a long time within the community. But that name represented the old way of doing things, so it was decided that the church needed a new name to represent the new identity and changes they were implementing. The church was already called by different names—the children’s church was known as Kal CC while adults referred to it as just Christian Center. The tension between the varying names was relieved once the name change was introduced – finally everything fell under one new identity.
  • Become a “we” church. // One of the values at Canvas Church is to be a “we” church instead of a “me” church. Everyone from the leaders down work in teams so that it isn’t thought of as “Pastor’s Kevin’s church” or someone else’s church. The lead pastor does have the final say, but everything is collaborative. Phill notes that when they succeed, they succeed as a team, and when they fail, they work as a team to look into the situation and learn and grow. As one example of collaboration, every Tuesday the pastoral team gets together and everyone contributes to the agenda.
  • Nothing is too big or too small to be evaluated. // If something within the church makes someone cringe, it deserves to be evaluated. This, Phill explains, can be something as seemingly minor as the coat rack in the lobby. Another example is that a team evaluates Pastor Kevin’s message on Thursdays so it can be tweaked as necessary prior to the weekend. Phill explains that evaluations are immediate and allows for course corrections right away.
  • Celebrate wins. // “Celebrating wins is the fuel for the vision,” Phill says. The leadership team gathers together to share wins within the church, such as someone came to the church for the first time or someone got baptized for the first time. The team doesn’t just work at the church, but they are the church, and celebrating wins is a core part of that mission. Every win that is celebrated has to be attached to the vision of the church.

You can learn more about Canvas Church at www.canvaschurch.com.

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Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Slack, Google Docs, Wunderlist

Ministries Following // Saddleback Church, Mariners Church; New Life Church in Renton, Washington

Influential Book // Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne, Generational IQ by Haydn Shaw and Ginger Kolbaba, Teams that Thrive by Ryan T. Hartwig Ph.D. and Warren Bird, Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Inspiring Leader // Craig Groeschel

What does he do for fun // Family time, restoring a ’49 Ford Pick-up, Motorcycles, Glacier National Park

Contact // www.canvaschurch.com

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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.