Shell Osbon on Transforming a Historical Church through Community Partnerships


shell_osbon_podcastHey, everybody, and thank you so much for tuning in with us on the unSeminary podcast. I’m honored to have Pastor Shell Osbon with us today from Life Church in Smyrna, Georgia.

Life Church of Smyrna started 63 years ago and Shell Osbon has been lead pastor for the past 13 years. If someone were to visit Life Church today, it would look a lot different than it did in earlier years. Whereas previously the church was mostly Caucasian, it has seen a change over recent years and become very multicultural, reflecting the culture and make up of the Atlanta area.

Today Shell is with us to talk about the intentional community partnerships Life Church has developed over the years and how it’s shaped the church.

  • Get into the community. // Life Church is part of the Assemblies of God, which places a high value on mission work. When Shell came to Life Church, they were doing an exceptional job supporting missionaries around the world, but didn’t have as many relationships built in the local community. For example Shell reached out to a school next door and asked what the church could do for them. Reach out to your own community, forming relationships with other people and organizations in order to better serve them. By doing this, Shell said he recognized huge potential for outreach right in Life Church’s own backyard. “We just realized that’s the model God wants us to use to really impact our city more,” Shell says. Life Church began this partnership with a middle school next door and then spread to a Mexican restaurant where church members frequently dined. Today Life Church has about 35 community partners where they host events, volunteer, and provide funding on occasion, but the biggest value is the relationship built between the church and the community within these locations.
  • Just say hello. // In scripture there is a big emphasis on relationships. Jesus is the groom and the church is the bride. We have a heavenly Father and we’re all brothers and sisters. Pastors can build relationships within the community by first looking at the places they frequent, such as restaurants or shops. Any business owner would be happy to have someone else pushing people toward their business and giving them more exposure. So Shell asked the Mexican restaurant where he and his wife dined if they would consider having one night a week in which they would give the members of the church a special, such as a free soft drink or 10% off their order. Through pushing business toward this restaurant, Shell made it clear that he wanted to also become a partner and serve the business and employees. The owner agreed to a partnership, and rather than just one night a week, the owner decided to put all of the church members’ receipts into a box and then give the church 10% of the total amount the members spent there. Through this first outreach to someone he didn’t know, Shell began work as the restaurant’s pastor to help employees deal with stresses in their lives and spread God’s Word.
  • “How can we serve you and your organization?” // Most businesses are used to churches coming to them and asking the business to serve the church, such as free hot dogs for a church event. But when the church turns that around and asks how they can serve the business, sometimes it takes people by surprise and they don’t know how to respond right away. But as Shell and his wife began this mission of reaching out to the businesses within the community, the partnerships began to grow quickly and he soon had to assign staff to start helping with this partnership mission. When one of their partners asks if the church can do something for them, Shell has told his staff to always say yes. As they’ve done this, they haven’t had anyone ask for anything from the church that was unreasonable. It may be something that they can’t fulfill entirely, but they will do what they can or will find another partner to help if the church can’t do it themselves. Because of these relationships, when the partners find out that the church is having an event and has needs, they’re more willing to help out and serve the church in return.

You can connect with Shell through email at [email protected]. You can find out more about Life Church through their website http://www.lifechurchsmyrna.com. Finally, you can download the coaching and consulting brochure and the general information brochure Shell mentioned.

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Episode Highlights

00:40 // Rich introduces Shell Osbon and welcomes him to the show.

01:02 // Shell introduces us to Life Church, Smyrna, Georgia.

04:14 // Shell talks about the concept of Life Church.

08:45 // Shell talks about community partnerships.

14:24 // Rich gives an example of a relationship benefiting the community.

16:37 // Shell gives examples of community partnerships.

20:41 // Shell talks about the impact of taking care of the community.

23:40 // Shell highlights the essence of the gospel.

25:13 // Shell offers to share his concept and support other churches.

26:55 // Shell tells the story of Warren.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // unSeminary, Thom Rainer, Assemblies of God

Ministries Following // Pastor Mike Linch, NorthStar Church, Kennesaw

Influential Book // Natural Church Development by Christian A. Schwarz, Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, and The Gospel and Sexual Orientation

Inspiring Leader // Dr. Billy Graham, [Reinhard Bonnke 00:31:48]

What does he do for fun // Family, Disney World, Camping, Jogging, Golfing

Contact // [email protected] lifechurchsmyrna.com

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host here. I am so glad that you’ve tuned in, I think today you’re going to be particularly encouraged, blessed, you’re going to learn and I hope challenged. I hope as you listen in today that you’ll walk away saying, “Hey, maybe we need to think about our ministry in slightly different light?”

Today we’ve got Pastor Shell Osbon from Life Church in Smyrna, Georgia. Shell is a great leader, a good friend, welcome to the show Shell.

Shell – Thanks Rich, it’s a real joy to join with you and all of those who will be here on the podcast as well.

Rich – Oh, thank you so much. Why don’t we start with, kind of give us the Life Church story, if people were to arrive this weekend, what would they experience and then what’s your connection with the church?

Shell – Yeah, I appreciate that. Life Church has been in existence for 63 years and I’ve had the privilege of serving as a Lead Pastor for 13 of those years. So, a historical church, we’re part of the Assemblies of God and have just got a great, I guess you would say kind of a name and presence in our community, a lot of rich history here, a strong missions minded church and when I arrived just was thankful for the opportunity to service in this capacity.

I’d been here in Atlanta for about 8 years prior to that, but really was unfamiliar with this side of town, we were over on the opposite side of town, so the church was kind of a blank slate once I started interviewing with the board and those types of things, but just knew from information, knew from just getting connected, it was a real healthy church, great pastors before me, only 4 out of those 50 years, so it had long tenured pastors.

Smyrna itself is a suburb of the Atlanta Metro and has been continuing to see growth over the years and being here at this church was a real exciting time and I arrived and realized that it was a healthy church, a strong missions minded church, but realized that there were some things that we could do better, I think to really reach our community and that’s kind of what started the journey.

But if somebody was showing up on Sunday today would be a lot different than 13 years ago in that, 13 years ago we were pretty, almost exclusively a Caucasian fellowship.

Rich – Right.

Shell – Really within about a year, not through anything that I did or we did, but God just began to transform our church to look like our city. So very quickly we became multicultural, became a lot younger and again those were things that, at least from a human involvement were accidentally… well I would say God orchestrated them but we didn’t do anything necessarily.

Rich – Really? What did God use though? He must have used something to make that change. Were there just certain relationships that just kind of started to shift?

Shell – Yeah, in fact the previous pastor, I had him preach for me on a Sunday about a year after I’d gotten here and he wanted to know, how did that happen in a year?

Rich – Right.

Shell – Because he pastored for 5 years and his dad pastored before him for 31 years.

Rich – Oh wow.

Shell – So it was just a part of, I think of the community changing over time and a lot of suburbs had started out really as Caucasian areas, at least here in the South, but it became very multicultural. So within about a year we began to see this influx of folks, and so now, if you walked in there is not a real close majority of anybody, we’re probably 35 or so nations and countries in the church.

Rich – Wow, that’s really cool.

Shell – It looks like our city, looks like Atlanta and I think in a small way kind of looks a little bit like heaven.

Rich – Ah, very cool.

Shell – Casual.

Rich – Casual, yeah?

Shell – Yeah.

Rich – Very cool. Now one of the things you said, obviously heavy kind of missions support, would you say that’s a traditional value of the Assemblies of God churches, really kind of heavy into missions, particularly foreign, but then what was going on locally as it looked to reach out to Smyrna?

Shell – A great question Rich. Yeah I would say the Assemblies of God and our heritage starting back in the early 1900s really were founded with a strong emphasis on taking the gospel around the world and so that’s continued on. I think we’re probably one of, not the but one of the leading fellowships of the churches, as we would prefer to call ourselves, in supporting missions, nationally and internationally and our church really took the heart of missions on with the pastor, two guys before me, as he introduced the concept of our church.

So by God’s grace and to the congregation’s credit, we’ve been, for many, many years, in about the top 3% to 5% of AG Churches in the nation when it comes to supporting missions, it’s just been really engrained in our DNA. But the point that I saw that often times is the case with historical churches is that we were doing, I think a pretty good job of holding hands singing Kum Ba Yah on our campus providing ministry and we were doing an exceptional job of supporting missions all around the world.

Now we supported some locally and we were just missing our Jerusalem and that’s what started this journey of what we now call community partnerships and I just saw a great opportunity with… Right next door, right out of my window is a middle school, so when I arrived I asked the youth pastor that was serving it at the time I said, “What’s our relationship with this middle school?” and he said, “Next door neighbors.”

Rich – Oh wow.

Shell – Now, he had only been here for about a year at the time.

Rich – Right.

Shell – So I discovered he had been on campus through FCA and some things but we got an invitation or an opportunity to meet with the Principal and just reached out and started saying, “Hey, we’re next door neighbors, we’re in the same community, how can we serve you and the school?” Rich, he was taken back, he said, “Nobody’s really ever asked me that.”

Rich – Wow, that’s amazing.

Shell – Now, Smyrna itself is about 55 thousand people, it’s swallowed up in the Atlanta Metro with millions, but this is a small community in Atlanta Metro where you can get to know key leaders, whether it be school officials or government officials, business leaders, all types of folks and forge some really cool relationships and what we’ve discovered is that by intentionally getting out of our building and into our community and building those relationships, we’re able to, and we use the phrase, ‘earn the right to be heard through serving’. That’s a phrase that we borrowed from Pastor Mike Linch up at NorthStar.

Rich – A great guy, that’s a great church, a great leader for sure.

Shell – And just realized, you know, that’s the model that God wants us to use to really begin to impact our city more. So that’s where it started, was with the middle school and then a Mexican restaurant that we dine in frequently to where now we’ve got, I think 35, 36 community partners.

Rich – Wow!

Shell – With whom we, as we say, hold hands through shared values, we host events, we volunteer in their organizations, we provide funding on occasion, that’s not part of it, it’s the relational part of it. What we’ve learned is, it’s just hard for folks to say no to genuine love and concern and an interest in what they’re doing, and that’s the key.

So much like foreign missionaries go to language school so they can learn how to communicate with people, this is our language school, it gets us out of our building, out of Christian ease, into our community, finding out, where is their heartbeat, what are their needs and then, can we do something about that, can we help in some way? And because we’re in the same community, man there are so many overlaps between the local church and businesses or government or schools or homeschool networks or scouting groups, there’s just such a wonderful opportunity that I think really is a model that can be replicated anywhere in the world.

In fact, when we were in Canada a couple of weeks ago, part of that journey was, we did pastors’ roundtables with about 50 or 60 pastors to teach on this and I think it can be used similarly anywhere, but you don’t start with 36, you start with one.

Rich – Yeah, absolutely.

Shell – You have the ability to branch out and you go from there.

Rich – Absolutely, well let’s dig into that. I think this is one of those areas where I would hope that as church leaders are listening in they’re saying, “That’s the kind of church I want to lead, I don’t want to lead a church where we’re like this walled fortress and it’s like we don’t have any connection with the community.” I think a lot of people who tune in want to have those relationships but they don’t know where to start. Where do you coach or recommend church leaders start? How do you even start those kinds of dialogs?

Shell – A great question. Where we started, as I mentioned, the middle school was because literally our properties are joined together. It’s almost like going to your next door neighbor in your neighborhood or your town home or your apartment complex and just shaking hands saying, “Hello.”

You know Rich, I think as we all read the scripture what we really see is that everything is about relationship. Jesus is the groom and the church is the bride and we’ve got a heavenly father with brothers and sisters. Everything about the church is relational, and so when we take that model and we intentionally don’t call these community outreach programs or community evangelistic project or whatever, it’s community partnership, because partnership implies, we’re getting together.

Rich – Working together, yeah.

Shell – Yeah, we’re doing this mutually for the benefit of the community. So the question you asked is, how do you kind of start that? Well what I would encourage pastors to do is just look at the places where they frequent. For example, the second community partnership that we developed was at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Rich – Yeah, let me hear, tell me about that.

Shell – Man, that was so cool. We’d been here about 6 months I guess and Missy and I were dining in there one day and I told her, I said, “Honey, I think God just spoke to me over my fajitas.”

Rich – Those are good fajitas.

Shell – I’m telling you man, I felt it. I said, “You know, there are two things that I believe God just spoke about that he wants to see happen here.” The first thing was, I said, “I want to talk to the owner,” we’d never met and say, “Would you create like a day of the week or a night of the month or something where we could encourage our church folks to come and dine?” and maybe he’d give them, I don’t know, a free soft drink, 10% off, whatever and she said, “Do you think he’ll do that?” And Rich, I was in both wholesale and retail before being in the ministry and I said, “Absolutely. Any business owner would love for somebody to be pushing people to their business.”

Rich – Yeah.

Shell – I said, “He’ll do something,” I said, “but that’s not what I really want.” She said, “What do you really want?” I said, “The next thing I really want is that we can become a significant influence in his business, serving he and his employees.”

Rich – Yeah.

Shell – So we set up a meeting with the owner the next Monday, I did, went in, met Max and he said, “Hey look, my wife’s already told me about the idea, let’s not do one day or one night or whatever, just tell the church folks, when they dine here, tell us when they’re paying their bill,” he said, “we’ll put that receipt in a box,” and he said, “pastor, if it’s okay, I’d love to send the church 10% of everything that the church members spend here, will that be okay?”

Rich – Wow.

Shell – I said, “Max, that would be great, that’s kind of you.” Now Rich, I’ll be honest, I didn’t think about that, I didn’t have that in my mind and I didn’t know if that would be $5 or $50.

Rich – Right, right, right.

Shell – But honestly, it became thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars that he was sending to our church on an annual basis as a way of saying thank you and that blew my mind but that was never in my mind, it wasn’t about that, I didn’t know that was going to happen that day.

So the next thing I said was this, I said, “Max, I’m looking at your menu and it looks like you have seven restaurants,” he said, “Yeah, my family and I do.” I said, “Well Max, I’m sure you have an accountant for financial issues and stuff,” he said, “Sure.” I said, “I’m sure you have an attorney for legal issues,” and he said, “Well certainly.” I said, “Well Max, if you don’t have this next thing I’d love to provide this for you if you would like,” he said, “What’s that?” I said, “If you don’t have a pastor for your business, I’d love to make that available.”

Rich, he sat back in his booth and he looked at me kind of sideways and I thought, “Uh-oh, this isn’t going well.” Then Max said, “Well what do you mean?” I said, “Well Max, here’s the way I think about it. You’ve got employees, they’ve got problems in their families, their homes are falling apart, their kids are driving them crazy, whatever’s going on, if you don’t have somebody that can help your employees with that, they’re always bringing that to work aren’t they?” He said, “Every day,” and I said, “It affects you as a business owner,” he said, “Yeah.” I said, “Max, if you don’t have that, I’d love to provide it,” and he leaned back again and he looked at me and he said, “Pastor, you would do that for me?” I said, “I’d love to Max.” So he said, “Well, would you start holding one hour of mass every Monday for me and my employees before we open up?” and I’m like, “Dude, you call it what you want, we’ll be there.”

So we started doing a one hour bible study for Max and his employees. He told me that day, he said, “I want my employees to know what I know,” he said, “I’m a believer, I just don’t really know how to tell them.”

Rich, I’ll tell you, on the third Monday in his business, Max Angel received Jesus Christ, this is what he says, he made a commitment to follow Christ. What we learned is, when he said, “I’m a believer,” was, “I’m believing in this gospel and I know that it’s what’s important to me,” but he personally took that step of faith.

Listen, we’ve got now 13 years invested in him. Missy and I were dining in there yesterday, sometimes we’ll eat there 3 or 4 times a week, anyway, it’s just about building relationships. Now, everybody may not want to use that model.

Rich – Right.

Shell – “You have an attorney, you have an accountant, but do you have a pastor?” But there’s some way to connect with that restaurant, that school, that nursing home, that homeschool network.

So that’s the way it started for us. Look, I’m not smart enough to have already plotted all of this out, it was just the way that God got it to unfold for us. So it went from a middle school, to a Mexican restaurant and then now, Rich I’ll just tell you man, we are deeply embedded in our community.

Rich – That’s so cool. I love that. I did not know that’s where that story was going. That is incredible. I think a lot of times we think of, the school thing, okay I can see how that could work, they have some needs, but I love even your underlying for people, you’re saying, “Hey, how can I help you?” You’re coming with a towel over your arm and you’re saying, “Hey, what can we do to help you?” That just have the fragrance of Christ to it, that has the kind of thing that draws people in.

In our church we had asked our campus pastors to do a similar kind of thing, I’ve shared this story in other podcasts, so I apologize if you’ve heard it before, but we said, “Hey, try to get to kind of the highest elected official you can get to in your town. If you can get to the mayor, great, but if not maybe schoolboard chairman or something like that.”

So in one of the towns our campus pastor went, and all they were supposed to do was to go and say this, “Hey, we’ve got X number of volunteers, maybe 200 volunteers and we want to volunteer an entire day doing something in your town and we’ve got X number of dollars that we’ll spend doing it. So it literally won’t cost you anything. How can we help? What are the needs in your community?” and one of the mayors, a similar experience you experienced with Max, leaned back in his chair and said, “I’ve never been asked that before. No one has ever said anything like that to me. People are always coming to me asking for things,” so he was like, “I don’t want to answer now because I want to think about it,” which was amazing.

Then what happened about two weeks later, this mayor, I won’t use their name but this mayor was known as a pretty forceful spirit let’s say, I don’t know where they’re at with Jesus, but two weeks later we get $1000 check from the mayor personally to the church and a note saying, “I don’t know what is going on with your church, but I want to support it. I think what you’re doing is amazing,” and that’s begun a relationship that now we’re five or six years in on that and have done all kinds of good in that community because working and like you say, leading with, “How can I help you? How can I serve you?” for sure.

Now, let’s talk about the other side of this. I’m sure there’s been ones that have gone well, I’m sure there’s something that maybe hasn’t gone well, have you learned from that process like a few bumps and scrapes along the way, some potholes that people could avoid as they think about community partnerships?

Shell – I’ll tell you, you would expect the answer to that to be yes, but I just got to tell you man, these have gone so amazingly well, there have been very few wrinkles that have come along.

Rich – Yeah.

Shell – What we’re discovering is, when you lead with that… basically the questions comes down to, however you phrase it is, how can we serve you in your organization? As you experienced, as your campus pastor did, people are not accustomed to the church asking that question.

Rich – Right.

Shell – What they’re accustomed to is the church saying to the grocery store down the road, “Hey, we’re having an event, can you give us free hotdogs,” you give us something. When you turn that around and say, “How can we give to you, how can we serve you?” Sometimes people don’t know how to respond.

Rich – Right.

Shell – So as we’ve done that, we haven’t had any scenario that I can even remember to where one of our partners has asked from something from us that was unreasonable. In fact, what started out with my wife Missy and I being the liaison with these organizations as we had just a few of them, once they really begin to take off, I had to assign to all of the pastoral and administrative staff, to them to become liaisons with organizations and what I told them is this, “When one of our organizations, one of our community partners say, ‘Can you?’ the answer is always yes.”

Rich – Right.

Shell – I said, “It may be, ‘Yes, we want to do something, we can’t do all of that.’” We may be like Peter and John all the way to the temple, Acts 3. “We’re broke, we haven’t got any money but what we can do is this.” We may not be able to meet the entire need but if they decide to cross that bridge between the church and the community on their terms, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, when they take that step and ask, “Can you?” we’re going to say, “Yes,” and we’re going to say, “We’ll either do it personally or we’ll find another partner if we can’t pull that off ourselves.”

So what we find relationally, Rich is that we don’t have those big potholes or those big, man this just didn’t work out thing, because it’s based on relationships and as we’re going through it some of those partners have now come around and when they find out things we’re doing like a big Free Fall festival or, what we do is a firetruck egg drop every year, by the way I’m the chaplain with the fire department and I’m the chaplain with the police department.

So we’ve got all these great relationships in that regard, but when our partners find out we’re doing things, they’ll come to us and say, “How can we support that? Can we volunteer? Can we donate money?” That reciprocal side of that, honestly Rich, I never thought about when we started this.

Rich – Right.

Shell – So when Max started blessing our church, when one of our partners and I were at lunch a few years ago and he said, “Look, what can we do for you pastor?” I said, “Just allowing us to serve you and your organization,” he said, “Oh no, no, no, that’s not a…”

Rich – “You’re not getting off that easy.”

Shell – Yeah, he said, “Look, I’ll make it easy for you, you’ve got your Fall festival coming up, you’ve invited me and my 180 or whatever employees and families to come, it’s free right?” “Yeah.” “Everything’s free, pony rides, video game truck, games, prizes, food, everything is free right?” “Yes it’s free.” He said, “That costs you doesn’t it?” I said, “Well certainly.” He said, “Do you mind me asking how much?” I said, “I don’t mind telling you,” and I told him and he said, “Okay, I’m going to write you a check for that, I want to pay for your Fall festival.” I said, “Are you serious?” and he said, “Yeah,” he said, “Pastor, now that’s what we call a partnership,” he said, “you can’t just keep doing for us and not allow us to do something back.”

Rich, I was humbled by that and I don’t have permission to use his name or the organization, but what we’ve learned is that what the scripture says is true, when you give, it will be given back.

Rich – Yeah.

Shell – Now, it doesn’t come back in money, it comes back in relationships. We don’t have time in this podcast for me to start telling you all of the lives that have been changed, not necessarily in this building, but many of them have been changed in this building, but Rich, this is to the point now, we pastor more people in this community than we could ever force into this church.

Rich – Right, right.

Shell – Jesus never said, “Build a building and wait for them,” he said, “Take it to them.”

Rich – Right.

Shell – This gives us a chance to take it to them. Now on day one, it’s not about bible studies and discipleship and preaching and praying, it’s about, what need do you have that we can help with? So when we started opening up our building to our community, I’ll tell you now, our community uses our building more than we do as a church, because most churches sit empty other than Second Wednesday or whenever you worship, the office is open during the week, but man, I drive on this campus and sometimes there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people here and people all over the place.

Tuesday is a madhouse. It starts early morning with homeschool networks, it goes all through the evening with cub scouts, boy scouts, girl scouts and there are just hundreds of kids and families on our campus in particular on Tuesday.

We’ve just built a playground, upstairs on the upper level, not just for our kids at the church but so that our community partners can use it.

Rich – Yeah, that’s so great.

Shell – You know what, I’ve got to say this quickly if I can.

Rich – Yeah, absolutely.

Shell – When we went into this model of saying to our partners, “Hey, if you need to use our building we would love to make it available,” I knew we would have costs like utilities and housekeeping type stuff, [Inaudible 00:21:35] type stuff, there would be expenditures that we couldn’t necessarily anticipate, but I’ll tell you this, when we had our, what we call our annual church celebration in February, after the first year that we started allowing our community to use our building, I was able to rejoice with our church family and they went nuts over this, that that year that our building was used almost every day of the week, compared to the year before when we used it as a church only, we actually spent $800 less in utilities that year than we did the year before.

Rich – That doesn’t make sense. That’s amazing.

Shell – It was like when the children of Israel’s clothes didn’t wear out and stuff like that.

Rich – Yeah.

Shell – But obviously, as a caveat, we had to replace some air conditioning units during that year, they probably ran more efficiently.

Rich – Yeah, yeah totally.

Shell – That’s a part of it, but here’s what I believe kind of whispered to me Rich, he said, “Shell, if you’ll take care of my community, I’ll take care of your budget, I’ll take care of your church.”

Rich – I totally agree. I think there is something about being openhanded, about taking what we have and not holding it tightly. I think God wants to… and listen, don’t get me wrong, I know what you’re not saying Shell, it’s not like a health and wealth kind of thing, like give and then God will pour back to you, that’s not what I’m saying, I know that’s not what you’re saying, but there is something to the principle that when God sees that you’re being a good steward, you’re using his resources to make a difference in the community, he’s going to bless that, he’s going to give you more to bless more, that just makes sense in his economy, that just is how it works out.

Shell – You know the cool thing is that, when I drive on this campus, I used to, if I saw a few extra cars I would know what was going on.

Rich – Yeah.

Shell – I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. Somebody else has to manage that whole calendar for us and I’ll say, “Look, who’s here today?” “Well, we’ve got this homeschool in there working. We’ve got the fire department using this part of the building and we’ve got the Psychological Services provider having a staff meeting over here,” and all this kind of stuff is going on. Man, I don’t think about utilities and toilet paper costs, what I think about is, how many people are being exposed to the fact that we’re here, number one, and that we care, number two? Because Rich, you know this, in America the average unchurched person cannot name the name of one church within a five-mile radius of their home.

Rich – Right.

Shell – I don’t think it’s because they all hate God and they’re all going to hell, we’re not on their radar screen.

Rich – Yeah, true.

Shell – So what these partnerships do is they significantly elevate the visibility of the local church in the community and then people now know you’re there and they now know you care and at some point they might actually start walking in your building.

Rich – Exactly.

Shell – Even if they don’t, you’re still walking in their building, you’re still going to them and that’s the essence of the gospel, is to go, not wait but to go. So over time, this is not, let’s fill empty pews or the chairs next Sunday morning model, this is, let’s build relationships and over time, let’s see people’s lives transform, let’s see marriages restored. We do weddings, we do counselling, we do funerals for folks that may never walk through the doors of this church, but you know, that’s why I can say we pastor to more people in our community than we could put in this building.

Rich – Absolutely.

Shell – I think that’s part of the heart of God and I think this can happen anywhere in the world to the degree that a local church can do it, because it’s not based on budgets, it’s not based on staffing, it’s just based on, let’s set aside some time to get out of our building and into our community. Let’s find one organization which whom we can connect and let’s just see what God does with it from there.

Rich – Now, I know, I think you kind of are making yourself available to help churches, you’ve structured a bit of that, can you tell us a little bit about what that looks like?

Shell – Yeah, absolutely. I’ve got some resources that I’d be happy to share with your listeners or with anyone for that matter that would just be kind of a jumpstart on this concept and a little bit of the history of what we’ve done. I’d give them some links to our website where they could see a list of our community partners and that might trigger in their mind, “Oh, I never thought about the city government, or I never thought about schools, I never thought about businesses,” whatever and those things I’d love to share just constantly with people and do that often.

Here locally in the Atlanta Metro, I’ll meet with pastors over lunch or coffee and just kind of share this concept and often times that’s all somebody needs is just a jumpstart to say, “Man, we can do that.”

I can share some of our stories, that type of stuff, over a phone, a Skype session or whatever, but then there have been occasions where I think it’s been helpful for me to get more intricately involved in helping to train either the pastor, the staff, elders, whatever their structure is and even frame conversations with potential partners and that would be a coaching and consulting opportunity that I can do.

But that’s not what this is about man, I mean, I would love to just freely share stuff with folks and give them ideas and concepts and just let them run with it, but for those who might want more involved time, you know, then we could talk about that.

Rich – Yeah, totally.

Shell – But that’s not the forefront of this man, the forefront is just, hey, this is something God’s allowed us to do, maybe he would lead you to do something like this. Call it what you want, find somebody in your community, but I think it will replicate.

Rich – Do you have like a resource or something we could put in the show notes, that people could download, or just something like that that kind of outlines some of this? What would be the best way to do that, would that be possible?

Shell – Yeah, I could do that, in fact this is a coaching and consulting brochure, I’ve got one, this is just general information, but it’s in this format. I’ll send it to you as a PDF and let you add both of those there and I’ll send you a link, there’s an article that appeared in one of the AG publications a couple of years ago that also interviewed some of our community partners and they shared some of their stories about how this has impacted their lives, their organizations.

You want to read a story about a guy named Warren who was an assistant manager at a local barbecue restaurant. By the way, this restaurant we do a [Fair 00:27:28] Sunday morning service for the employees, we do an Easter Sunday morning service for the employees who can’t go to church because sometimes when we go in on Sunday, man we’re ready to eat and we’re thinking, “Man, they ought to be in church,” well if they were in church they couldn’t be waiting on your table.

Rich – Right, true.

Shell – So it isn’t church for them. So this barbecue restaurant, Warren was working there and unfortunately Warren had a real struggle with alcohol and he wounded up getting fired and through that connection with that restaurant, Warren and I met, along with his mom, he’s a single guy, and Warren made the decision to get involved in a ministry that we support called Teen Challenge and they help men and women overcome life controlling addictions and Warren went and spent 12 months at a Teen Challenge center in Louisiana and has come back and is completely free of alcohol, the restaurant has hired him back again and he’s a model of transformation.

Rich – Wow.

Shell – Rich, I don’t know if that ever would have happened had we not gotten out of our building and into our community. So that’s just one of dozens and dozens of stories man that I could share with pastors. So it’s not just a concept, this is real life transformation that we see taking place man, on a daily basis.

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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.