The Surprising Journey Toward Being a Community Focused & Fast Growing Church with Vern Streeter

Thanks for joining in for the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Vern Streeter, the lead pastor at Harvest Church in Billings, Montana.

Harvest Church is one of the fastest growing churches in the country and has had a long-time value of being community-focused. Listen in as Vern chats with us about paying attention to the unique needs in your community, and how you can creatively impact and serve your city in Jesus’ name.

  • Focus on the community to be relevant. // Planting a church where the focus is simply “doing church” should not be our primary goal. If people don’t want churches in their neighborhoods because churches are irrelevant to their lives, Vern believes that’s the church’s fault for not connecting with the community in meaningful ways. At Harvest Church their mantra is to be so tangible and relevant that even the most ardent critic of Christianity would be bummed if they ceased to exist. Plant a church with a focus on serving the community and being relevant to them.
  • Serve others outside worship services. // In an effort to build a connection with the community, Harvest Church didn’t start with worship services, but rather with serving the neighborhood. They began with simple activities such as raking leaves and taking care of landscaping, and over time have held bigger events and gotten really creative about serving their community. That even led to the construction of a pool and water park for the city of Billings.
  • Rally others to new ideas. // Vern advises to other pastors who hear an urge from the Lord to do something crazy for their community to just get out there and go for it. Ask yourself what your community needs and rally everyone to the new idea that will serve the community in a surprising way. Followers of Christ are tired of the consumerism in churches and are ready to surprise and delight the community in Jesus’ name. Think outside the box and get outside the church walls to engage the curiosity of unbelievers, and your church will gain traction in your community.
  • Needs unique to your community. // Montana and Wyoming lead the nation in per capita suicide and the need for mental health care is huge in the community. To address this need, Harvest Church is redirecting funds that were originally for a new building and they are constructing a mental health facility to serve the community instead. The arrangement is not without challenges, such as accepting medicare, medicaid, and insurance, and having all federal and state licenses that are required. But the team at Harvest believes this is a specific way that God is calling them to serve their community with excellence while being unapologetically bible-based.

You can learn more about Harvest Church at www.harvestchurch.tv.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in today. You know every week we like to bring you a leader who will inspire and equip you and I know today is no exception. Super excited to have Vern Streeter with us. He is the lead pastor at Harvest Church in Billings, Montana. It’s one of the fastest growing churches in the country. They, a number of years ago, started the Better Billings Foundation which we’re going to hear more about, and their kind of practical outreach to make a difference. They’ve been done all kinds of really cool things. I’m excited to learn from them and part of what I love is Billings, Montana is not the kind of place that you would say a fast-growing church comes from. And so we can definitely learn from Vern today. Welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Vern Streeter — Really glad to be here. Thanks, Rich.

Rich Birch — This is going to be great. Why don’t you fill out the picture kind of tell us a bit more about Harvest. Give us the kind of the picture, if people were to arrive this weekend, what would they experience?

Vern Streeter — Yeah, so ah, Harvest Church was planted in the year 2000. I was a youth pastor for 10 years at the mother church across town, and this area of the community needed a church like what we do and so um, they asked me to consider it. After a few years of working on it. We we launched in a high school in the year 2000 and started working on getting into our own piece of property. So we bought a property next to the school and moved into us building in 2004, which we thought was a temporary building. It’s currently our permanent building and but what we did…

Rich Birch — Yes, still temporary all these years later. Yes.

Vern Streeter — Yeah, so we did the classic cafe-gym-atorium. We we built a gymnasium that converts to the worship center on the weekend. we are still setting up in chairs and ah but we put we did that because our heart is to serve the community and we knew, hey man, a gym’s gonna get used.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — And it is, it gets used every single day. And you know the acoustics are terrible, but we’ve we work on that constantly. And our lobby’s got climbing walls in it, and have great coffee and real open and friendly and welcoming and then you step into a gymnasium that’s a worship center. And we try to do a really good job on but so people experience on the stage as far as theming our sermon series and so on. Ah so you you’d walk into a place with good energy, and a little unusual because all of a sudden you’re rubbernecking noticing that there’s people climbing the walls.

Rich Birch — Love it. I love that heart from the beginning of being the kind of church that you know wants must want to make a practical difference in the community. I think that is just such a great thing. I think there’s a lot of churches that talk about that, but from what I can tell Harvest Church is actually doing that right from you know, there’s even something as obvious as the way you’re building is is using. Let’s talk about that. Where has that led you as a church as a leader as you’ve thought about how do we make an actual difference in Billings with the real issues that people are facing?

Vern Streeter — It was really moral for me because the Lord ah he made it very clear to me that if you’re gonna plant a church that’s just gonna kind of ‘do church’, don’t bother. And so let me let me let me expand on that a little bit.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Vern Streeter — So when when I was the youth pastor and realized I was going to be planting this church, I was researching the starting of new churches and read an article about subdivisions and planned urban developments or so on that ah are writing into their deed restrictions or their covenants that they didn’t want churches in the community. Which is a little alarming article to read when I was about to plant a church, but the Lord was really gracious but really firm with me – kind of a boot on my neck going, you can’t just be offended by that. You got to think more about this and think deeply about it. And so we we just had this little session where he just had me going down layers. And I’ll shorten the process but the the question was like whose fault is this that a community doesn’t want a church? And what he was revealing to me is that this was an issue of relevance – well used word – but that a guy would make a decision that he wants a laundromat or a gas station in in in his neighborhood but not a church.

Rich Birch — Right. right.

Vern Streeter — And he’s concluding that the church has some irrelevance to him where of course he wants his clothes clean and a gas for his car, so that matters to his life. But what flipside on its head is that the church has been entrusted with the, actually the only thing that matters, right?

Rich Birch — Right. Yes.

Vern Streeter — So like a guy’s eternal life or human flourishing. And so, but so if if they deem that the church is not doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. That’s the church folks’s fault. That’s that’s us.

Rich Birch — Yes. Wow.

Vern Streeter — We were entrusted with it and we’re the ones that made it irrelevant. So I just owned it. I just didn’t do anything but own it. I was like yep, Lord, that’s on us. I just in that moment was representing churchdom and went, all right, we’ll be different. So this little mantra of we got to be so tangible and so relevant that even the most ardent critic of christianity would be bummed if we ceased to exist – this was kind of a sentence we just kept telling ourselves and so when we started our church, we started by raking leaves and doing yard care in neighborhoods…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Vern Streeter — …where we were gonna plant. So we we didn’t start with worship services. We started serving and I just wanted our whole launch team to go to get it like we.

Vern Streeter — We’re going to get our hands dirty, guys. We’re going to work hard and have sore muscles because of it…

Rich Birch — Love that.

Vern Streeter — …rather than our cool new worship service with a band. You know.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah I love that because I think so many times the easy answer to relevance is exactly that. It’s skinny jeans, a band, and some lights, and and that just is proving to be not that relevant. And um, and I love that you’ve asked the deeper question and also owned it, and said hey that’s on us, not be not from like a blaming point of view, not from a like pointing fingers, but from an acceptance point of view. I love that from the beginning you were like how do we serve? You know, even as simple as raking leaves. Where has that where’s that continued to lead you?

Vern Streeter — Yeah, so so the very next thing we did was partnered, partnered I guess a good way to say it, is we used a high school. So we were the first church in Billings to ever use this school district’s property.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — So we had to keep break ground in there. Some school board stuff.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Vern Streeter — But what we told the principal was we are going to be a blessing to your school. And he’s not he wasn’t a Christian so we didn’t quite even understand why we needed another church in town. It was pretty funny.

Rich Birch — Mmm, yes.

Vern Streeter — And um, but we just started serving that school.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — Everything from the intangible of praying that the Holy Spirit would linger all week long after we left, to the very tangible of all the stuff that we have you can use at any time that you want, to we’re buying stuff that the school needs, to the way we treated the custodians, to how we left the rooms, to the way we would bless teachers tangibly. So we just put our arms around the school. We were actually the landscapers and the yard care for the high school for a while because…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — …it needed help and the school didn’t have the money and so we were like we got it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So right away we we now we’re doing worship services, but we’re also serving like crazy the school. and that principal later when we were planting a church in another town, in ah in a school which was also gonna be new in that town, he wrote a letter of reference to that principle…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — …saying the single best administrative decision he’s ever made was allowing Harvest Church to use his school.

Rich Birch — Wow!

Vern Streeter — I know that was awesome. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Wow! That’s amazing. That’s incredible. That’s so tangible. That’s incredible. Wow.

Vern Streeter — Exactly. So then it expanded from then then we got into our own building, which was unique, was like hey we own something now, so how do we how do we use this? But.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — But didn’t stay inward. We we started doing everything from Easter egg hunts and with helicopter drops, to there was no there was no great fireworks display in our region and so we now host the what we call Celebrate Freedom (a name I stole from somewhere in Texas), and we do this huge Fourth of July thing…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter —…and pay for the whole deal, and it cost us 70 to 100 grand a year and it’s our gift to the community. And then we would do classic compassion weekends where we’d shut down services and spread out all over the city and mobilize a couple thousand people to serve like crazy. Those are so fun and so effective.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — And that was everything from putting a roof on a widow’s house, to building a bridge over a city ditch because the city didn’t want to do it, to filling in—one of our funnest projects was we – the the graves in the city cemetery were all collapsing because…

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Vern Streeter — …because, you know, the coffins I think like that body rots and then the coffin collapses after fifty or eighty years. And so so they were all sunken…

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Vern Streeter — …and so they supplied the dirt but we supplied the manpower, and we went into this this cemetery for two days, man…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — …and refilled graves and replanted grass. It was an awesome project because it really, really built credibility with the city of Billings. They weren’t sure what to think of us, especially because again, an indictment on church folk, they were used to churches going, hey we got like a serve day – you got some projects for us? And then not finish the projects. So half a gazebo gets painted, or something like that. So they talked to us about that. And we were like, all right no matter what happens we are gonna complete our projects and go above and beyond, and we have a heritage of that. And they have learned to trust us over the years which really paid off when we actually built a water part for the community. That partnership with the city was…

Rich Birch — Dude, I love how you just rolled over that, like that is so great. Well then that paid off and when we built a water park. You did what? What did you do?

Vern Streeter — Ah, so one of the dynamics one of the dynamics in Billings is that we’re kind of a bifurcated or divided city because of geology, not geography, but literally geology. There’s a cliff band that runs across the north end of our city that necks down at the Yellowstone River…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …and so you’ve got the city separated by this cliff, and the only way to get to the part of the city I’m in is through that bottleneck by the river. Ao my area the community is called the Heights and there’s probably 40,000 people that live here and there’s about 100,000 people that live in the valley, if you will, below those rims.

Rich Birch — Okay, yep.

Vern Streeter — So this area of the community wasn’t um, didn’t become city, wasn’t annexed, until like the late 80s…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Vern Streeter — …and there’s people that live here that are still angry about that because of the sort of the independence period, you know, of Montanas…

Rich Birch — Right. Yes.

Vern Streeter — …and they didn’t want to be in the city, but they’re in the city now. So now we’re in the city. We’re paying city taxes, but there was no city recreation center, or or swimming pool.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Vern Streeter — So you got 40,000 people, no city swimming pool. But every time we would go to the voters, it would always get voted down because the rest of the city would go, well I’m not going to the Heights. Why would I…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Vern Streeter — …why would I vote to have my taxes raised for a pool I’ll never use, which I felt like was like, see this is the problem with the world…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — …and so we’re doing something about this. So the Lord was just he just impressed upon me like, that’s going to be your responsibility, and that that was after a couple of failed votes over a few years you know. And so we put it in our master plan, but it was phase 4. But we moved it from phase 4 to phase 2.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So we got we had to get out of the school and as soon as we did. We started a capital campaign to raise money for a water park.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — And so we raised like 4 we raised five million bucks to build, literally it’s the best water park in town, by far.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Vern Streeter — Matter of fact, it was the only water park for a while…

Rich Birch — Right. Right.

Vern Streeter — …then the city pool started going like we better put some slides in. Um, but one of the but one of the amazing things that happened is, well one of the amazing things that happened is that our church agreed that we should build a water park. That’s unusual to get…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s super unusual.

Vern Streeter — …several hundred, you know, I don’t know what we were 1500 people or something like that to go like yeah, let’s let’s not do some for ourselves. Let’s do something for the city that, and then we’re just going to gift it to the city. So so what we did is built this water park. We had to start a foundation to kind of do the firewall thing. And then ah, we got a director over it. We employ about a hundred kids every summer.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — It always turns a profit but we charge very little…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …and we just need to just need to make like 25 grand every year to put into the maintenance fund for a new pump or whatever.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Vern Streeter — But but one of the moments that was most special for me was we were on our way to a meeting with engineers to talk about finalizing the product, you know, what we were gonna do on our land because we got these 29 acres. And the city of Billings calls us and goes, hey we got 7 acres of land that’s basically unusable that we don’t have any money to put in to do anything to it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — How about you guys put that pool you’ve been talking about there?

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — So the city so the city literally gave us seven acres of land and and it’s in a way better location than where our church is because we’re at the we’re at a dead dead end basically. So now it’s in the center of the community basically…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — And that thing is slammed all June, July, and August. It is a blast.

Rich Birch — That’s amazing. That’s incredible! I love that – I love the the heart. So I don’t know, so I we had run into this story and I’m like I I don’t know any other church – now you probably do because you’ve talked with me – I don’t know any other church that’s built a water park that’s like, hey that’s led to that kind of you know situation. I love that you’re employing students. I love that it’s meeting a practical need. Um, you know, I love that it’s you know that arm’s length thing that’s kind of a fun you know, fun part of the story. Um, what would you say to church leaders that are thinking, they might have that kind of God-story resonating in their brain where like the Lord—it might not be a a water park—but it might be something of a similar nature of weirdness, like what? The Lord’s telling me to do this! What would you say to them as as they’re you know, hearing that, you know, today?

Vern Streeter — Yeah, I I would say, hurry. Do it. Get after it. Now. Now. You need a visionary…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — …courageous guy that’s going to stand in the pulpit and rally everybody to this new idea. But…

Rich Birch — Sure.

Vern Streeter — But but I do think that church folk I I think they get self-nauseated at consumerism themselves, and so the idea of let’s do something that’s radically different than what a church normally does, that radically serves the community in a surprising way, and I think that’s what and one of the fun things is the surprise that people have experienced.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Vern Streeter — I think Jesus surprised people all the time, and so for a church to do this is surprising to people, and it draws interest in what kind of a church does that? So it just seems that we’ve done a really good job of serving ourselves over the millennia…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …and to do things that are outside the church walls and outside the box, that surprises people and causes, especially non-christians to go, what’s the deal there?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Vern Streeter — That we’ve gotten tons of traction because of that.

Rich Birch — Okay, so let me let me, we’re friends, but let me push you on it. What are some other ways that as you’ve been, you know, being led by—which I love this heart for like how do we how do we help our community? How do we lead our community?—that may be push to deeper issues, that open up to you know things that – ah I’m not saying that a water park is not ah, not ah, not an yeah, a real issue but ah, you know there’s got to be other things that you know in your community that’s led you to think like hey we should we should maybe help with that. We should tackle it with that issue too.

Vern Streeter — Yeah, so for sure so we we’ve done everything from like we had this we had this hearse that pulled a coffin that was actually a barbecue and we would we would pull into the skate park with this thing. It’s got the best sound system of any hearse in town I promise you. And we would open that thing up and it’s got a cooler and barbecue in this coffin and it was a great opportunity to talk to kids about eternity. Or we have a car care ministry that takes cars in and gets them ready and usually they’re going to single moms, and so people don’t trade in their cars anymore. They give them to Car Care ministry and that thing that goes out. We have an ambulance that we converted that would go out and serve the homeless. So those kinds of things have just been just regular things for us.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Love it.

Vern Streeter — The latest and the doozy now that we’re that we’re doing, is that we’re we’ve we’ve opened a mental health practice.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Vern Streeter — So we’ve we’ve opened a mental health practice and it’s in matter of fact, it’s so um, preeminent for us that we reprioritized a recent capital campaign. So Covid helped us reprioritize it, it did.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — But the money that we raised for a worship center is actually getting totally repurposed and going for this mental health facility. Now, this is all about, and this is a major important theme and I think anybody listening to this like this is what you’ve got to evaluate is: what does your community need? So our community actually needed and I put it in quotes for sure but “needed a water park”, or a swimming pool for the 40,000 people that didn’t have one. So we did that. Or we didn’t have a fourth the July celebration that was safe and fun for families. So we did that. Well the mental health deal is the same deal. So we have a mental health crisis. It’s literally a crisis in our part of the country. And you put Billings in between Calgary to the north, Minneapolis to the east, Denver to the south, and basically Spokane or maybe Seattle to the west, and so you we are in a hole. And lots comes into Billings, but it’s very it’s regional at Billings, but we’re still very rural, and as you can imagine.

Vern Streeter — So our mental health situation is not good. The federal government has designated us a mental health shortage environment. So there’s actually funding available to try to get more people, mental health practitioners, to come to our region.

Rich Birch — Hmm, wow.

Vern Streeter — And our suicide rate leads the country.

Rich Birch — Wow, wow.

Vern Streeter — So we so we flop with Wyoming. Montana/ Wyoming lead the nation…

Rich Birch — Wow. Okay.

Vern Streeter — …in per capita suicide. And we know all the reasons why, by the way. We know that we know why we lead it. And I could list them for you. But the what we decided then was, and we’ve done this pretty much since the beginning of our church, was like understand that there’s mental health issues. Let’s try to help people. And it was really um, pastoral counseling without any credentialing…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …but we’ve been working on it. And then ah when covid hit, as you know, mental health

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …anything that was like under the water and the water went out. You could really see it, right?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Vern Streeter — And so our pastors were buried in marriages that were just falling apart.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — And I remember sitting in this one meeting and they all just had their pulled out their little lamb skin books – you know those those deals are journals. And they’re just they’re just reading couple after couple after couple to me that are either separated, divorced, or divorcing. They’re out. There’s domestic violence. And it was just heartbreaking, and just all that Covid ugliness…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …that exposed the mental illness deal. So we went all right, man. Let’s start a mental health practice.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — So we the this we got this director of operations and she’s a juggernaut.

Rich Birch — Right.

She’s awesome, but she she ran a she ran at a party rental business.

Rich Birch — Okay, okay.

Vern Streeter — Well, what do you suppose is one of the first companies to go under during covid would be a party rental business.

Rich Birch — Okay, right. Of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.

Vern Streeter — So she so she had to close up shop and sell her building. We scooped her up. She’d been at our church basically from the beginning and she is a leadership beast, and so I just sat down with her last January. And was like let’s go, Lene, let’s open a practice. And in nine months we had our first counselor hired. So last September we opened.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — We now have five counselors.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — They’re all busy.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — And then we were gonna do this building and we went, we don’t have the money to build the building anymore because of Covid increases, supply chain problems, and then inflation on top of it to put it out of reach.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So God graciously just was like you should build a building. So we’re building a sweet counseling building that will not look like a counseling building. So that…

Rich Birch — Right. Amazing. And then you’re going to stay in your existing facility and then that’s and that’s on your property.

Vern Streeter — Yep, yep.

Rich Birch — Yeah wow, that’s amazing.

Vern Streeter — We got twenty nine acres and we’re putting it on the far northeast corner of our property, put it away from the church, put it in a more tranquil location, off beaten roads.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Vern Streeter — People in Montana are embarrassed to go see a councilor so we’re gonna be real sensitive to that, and kind of put it out of the way where you can sneak into that parking lot and get in the building quickly, and get help.

Rich Birch — Wow, yeah, that’s amazing. What what the… I love that. I think this is first of all, this is just incredible story. What God’s doing at your church I just think is so cool. Um, you know as on the the mental health facility, what’s the launch of that look like? So you obviously you have a number of counselors on the team, you know how are you spreading the word? How does it work from a just kind of give us ah you know a leadership a little bit of deep dive around, you know, how are you paying for those people all that kind of stuff?

Vern Streeter — Yep, it’s really good. So again had to set up another 501C3 so it’s its own corporation; the church actually owns it. But we’ve got the firewall in place. Additionally though we did not want to turn away people. So…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …that means we’re taking medicare, medicaid, and insurance, which that means is that we have to have all the federal and state licensure that that is required.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So that means we get to do talent recruitment and get the right people here that have those credentials.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — We’ve got the clinical director that we got from another town in Montana. And then some local counselors to to join us. We are unapologetically bible-based and Jesus-centric, but John Townsend and Henry Cloud would be who our guides are on the clinical side.

Rich Birch — Okay, yep.

Vern Streeter — So that’s model of mental health from those guys. And then our all of our providers, all of our counselors are in the process of getting their credentialing, their hours. And then a variety of of credentialing, right? LC/PCs…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Vern Streeter — …or social workers, or whatever it is, so…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Vern Streeter — We’re kind of getting the ah full team together that is…

Rich Birch — Right. Pulling the team together.

Vern Streeter — Yep, and it’s broad like we we want to help everybody.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So from children to older adults as well as addiction counseling. So that means we’re providing the services that are required there by the state. So we are being a um we are playing nice. We are joining what the state and the feds require…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — …but unapologetically Christian, but with a high level of training and expertise. So it’s not pray and memorize a verse. Like we are doing deep dives into a person’s soul and their mental health issues. So that and and um, we have the accountability in place to be able to do that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — Actually had to contract for a while with another Christian counseling agency in town to be our clinical director before we had our own.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So that we would have the oversight and the accountability that’s required and…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s amazing.

Vern Streeter — And so there’s you know, Medicare, Medicaid, there’s counseling agencies that don’t accept it because it’s such a pain in the butt.

Rich Birch — Right.

Because there’s so much paperwork. You’ve pretty much got to hire somebody to just do red tape.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Vern Streeter — And so you got It’s these precious people who’ve got no resources are getting turned away.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — And we went nope. Nobody gets turned away.

Rich Birch — No not under our watch. Yeah yeah, yeah. Wow.

Vern Streeter — So so that means we had to deal with sliding scale so we had to figure out what what can you pay. So it’s everything from 0 to $150 an hour, depending.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — And then whatever your insurance company does and whatever Medicare and Medicaid does for you, we are just making it work for people because we want them in the room with a counselor.

Rich Birch — Wow. And you if it structured as a 501c3 or is an LLC or what is that organization? What is that? Yeah like is it a for profit, or is it a nonprofit structure, or charitable?

Vern Streeter — It is a okay…

Rich Birch — That’s a curveball question. Sorry.

Vern Streeter — Yep, ah it’s a you know it’s it’s just where I need my director of operations. It’s either an LLC or a 501c3.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s fine. Yeah, that’s fine.

Vern Streeter — And I thought it was 501c3 but it it is a for profit entity.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Vern Streeter — Um, which we’re trying not to make a profit.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah, no, that makes sense still make total sense. There’s a number of churches do that.

Vern Streeter — We just, right, we’re just going to pour money back into it and just and just talent recruit and just get the next counselor on board.

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely.

Vern Streeter — Because it’s a massive shortage in Billings. In some cases it’s six months to get into see a counselor.

Rich Birch — Yes, Wow, that’s amazing.

Vern Streeter — Well people are pulling a trigger by that time. So…

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, absolutely. Wow, that’s amazing. So what’s the what’s the top end kind of vision there? Is the hope to… do you have like ah a sense of the number of people that you’re hoping to serve? Or you know, what what is that what does that look like when you articulate that to your people? What what is it you saying?

Vern Streeter — Yeah, yeah, so there’s going to be about a dozen offices in there, so we could get have a dozen counselors, even more with some office sharing. There’s breakout rooms in that building because we we feel strongly about what happens in a small group and processing things together with groups. We do a thing called T Groups which is follows the John Townsend’s Townsend leadership program model where there’s teaching but then lots of processing in a small group. So we’re designing the building to hold that, but we’re also putting 150 seat amphitheater in there…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Vern Streeter — …that will be like a oh like a state of the art college classroom.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Vern Streeter — Ah, and that is for the purpose of education. And especially all the those that continuing education requirements. We’re gonna we’re setting ourselves up to be the place that this region will go to to do that learning…

Rich Birch — Love it. Love it.

Vern Streeter — Because we can bring it, we can pipe it in, but we’re also bringing guys in.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Vern Streeter — We’ll bring in Cloud and Townsend to to pour into people and we’re going to be um, unreligious about it. I mean so certain, again, unapologetically Christ-based, Christ Center, bible bible-based, but but some of our speakers are going to just be some of the best practitioners in brain science.

Rich Birch — Right. Yes, yeah.

Vern Streeter — For instance, those guys are coming in and they’re gonna teach.

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — So we are gonna have this education part of this as well. So we’ve got tons of room to really serve the region, and that’s the goal. We are not we can’t just think about our county…

Rich Birch — Right.

which is the biggest county in the state…

Rich Birch — Right.

Vern Streeter — We got to think about the region just because of how it’s spread out we are.

Rich Birch — Well the fun thing I love about this story, Vern, is I love how it started where so many churches start which is like, let’s rake some leaves in the neighborhood. Let’s, you know, let’s do that and somehow it goes from raking leaves…

Vern Streeter — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …to having you know the most advanced mental health facility, ah you know world class offering incredible service. I love that. I love the story that God’s writing there. When when you think about the impact on, I don’t even know what you call it, the kind of the rest of the church. The the box that we would normally call “church” – you know weekend service, getting people into small groups, kids ministry – all of that.

Vern Streeter — Yeah.

Rich Birch — How has your approach to being community-focused, how has that impacted um—I know that sounds like such a juvenile question—but how does it, how is all that working together? What’s it what how does that impact you know what’s happening on that that side?

Vern Streeter — Well, ah, yeah. So I don’t think it’s a juvenile question I’ll give you but I give you better more credit than that. Because here’s what’s happened in Billings is like somebody moves to town and they’re with their realtor and they’re talking about schools and churches and things and they go and the realtor goes, well, the first place you should probably check out is Harvest Church. And they go well, why? And they go well, they do a lot for the community.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Vern Streeter — And then the person goes. Do you go to Harvest Church? And they go, oh no I don’t go to church at all.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Vern Streeter — But but that church, man, they do a lot for the community.

Rich Birch — Yes, I love that.

Vern Streeter — So so 22 years now that it’s a deserved reputation.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah.

Vern Streeter — We do do a lot for the community, and and christians and non-christians alike go like well that that just seems right.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Vern Streeter — So I love that that’s our reputation and and we have got to keep doing it. So that’s one of my little my things with this. Our staff is all right, what’s the next thing we’re gonna do to serve the community?

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Vern Streeter — We have to stay on it. So it does require somebody to keep it going because man it’s easy to get insular and inward. But the but the reputation I think has given credibility for the gospel.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Vern Streeter — You ask people why they came to Harvest, It’s probably had something to do with our community involvement.

Rich Birch — Love it. This is so great. I I this has been a great conversation. So fun to hear. Anything else you want to share just as we’re wrapping up today’s episode?

Vern Streeter — Yeah, um, one of the things that I my my church hears a lot from me is that we serve the one who said he came to not to be served but to serve and to give his life away. So so guys, you know how I talk to him like we if we say we follow him then we’re gonna be doing the same thing. And so that’s where that service thing is um, foundational to us, and and will it’ll just never stop here. Um our core values are word-centered, community-focused, growth expected, fun required. And so that so unapologetically word-centered but community-focused is number two on that list. So if a person comes to our church and doesn’t want to be a part of the community, they’re they eventually gonna probably move on because we’re pretty obsessed with wanting to serve our community.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Love it.

Vern Streeter — And it needs it more than ever we lead the nation in suicide.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Vern Streeter — So come on. Let’s go. We got to get outside of these walls and help people.

Rich Birch — Vern, this has been so good. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. I want to make sure we send people to the right places online. If they want to know more about Harvest Church they just go to harvestchurch.tv. Are there other websites that we want to send them to or is that the primary place we want to send them?

Vern Streeter — That’s the primary one and then um, please go with grace in your heart to that website. It is being redone, launches in June.

Rich Birch — Okay, all good. All good, all good. We are always we’re all our websites are always at that phase.

Vern Streeter — We’re always a little embarrassed by our websites.

Rich Birch — We’re always like you got you got other stuff to do besides make a great website.

Vern Streeter — Exactly.

Rich Birch — You’re you know you’re somewhere between running a water park and a mental health facility. It’s fine if your website… and I think your website’s great.

Vern Streeter — Okay, thank you – appreciate it, Rich.

Rich Birch — That’s great Vern I appreciate you being here. Thanks so much for being on the show today. Thank you so much.

Vern Streeter — Great to be with you. Hope it helps a little bit.

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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.