Tom VanAntwerp shares lessons learned from expanding an established church through launching new campuses.


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tomvanGrace Chapel is a 60 year old church … not exactly the stereotype of the sort of church that is adding new campuses as a way to reach out to it’s community! But Tom VanAntwerp talks through how this church is leveraging campus expansion to make a bigger impact in it’s community. This episode is an encouragement for churches thinking about going multisite because Tom talks through their launch process and how they were able to expand their ministry.

Tom VanAntwerp // [Website]

Interview Highlights //

01:05 // Tom serves at Grace Chapel, Wilmington

01:43 // Tom’s campus launched 3 years ago

01:55 // Grace is a 60 year old ministry, now over 6000 people

03:20 // Grace had preciously church planted but new campuses was a new idea for Grace and the New England area

05:37 // Idea of starting a new campus was initially brought to 200 key leaders

07:01 // Grace gathered 12-14 key leaders that they asked to ‘lead with them’

08:36 // Initial campus launch period was a year, other campuses varied in length

11:’0 // ‘Tom, you can either lead small in this or you can lead big.’

14:20 // Grace asked the core leaders to commit to worshiping and serving for one year

15:00 // Rich asks how Grace came up with it’s idea campus launch core number

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Tech Tools // Fuse, Doodle

Book Worth Reading // Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley

Ministries Following // Willow Creek, North Point, Liquid Church

Inspiring Leader // the people who have committed to the life of the church who aren’t professional, but give of themselves, lives families

What does he do for fun? // work out, father of 4, close up magic

Interview Transcript //

Rich – Alright, well welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich . I’m the host around these parts. So glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us. This is the podcast where we get a chance to talk with great church leaders from across the country about what they’re learning in their particular context. I’m super excited to have Tom VanAntwerp today with us. He’s at Grace Chapel here on the East Coast. Nice to bump into another East Coaster. Tom, welcome to the show.

Tom- Great to be here Rich. Thanks for having me!

Rich – I am super excited to have you. Before we jump in, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the church you serve at.

Tom – My name’s Tom VanAntwerp. I’ve been at Grace Chapel for about 15 years. I grew up in upstate NY in Syracuse area and went to Wheaton College. Met my wonderful bride there, Julie. After we graduated we moved back to Battle Creek Michigan, believe it or not for the first three years. Then we came back to New England to seminary at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Been doing Youth Ministry for 14 years before transitioning to Grace. Loving it at Grace. I am now the Campus Pastor at Grace Chapel in Wilmington our first launch three years ago. Our three year anniversary.

Rich – Nice. Now why don’t you tell us, for people who don’t know, just a little bit about the church’s history, the style, give us a sense of what’s happening at Grace.

Tom – Grace Chapel has been around for 60 years, 64 years now. It was started in Lexington as a non-denominational church by a group, really 5 couples, who met in a living room for a number of years just praying to ask God to help them establish a Gospel believing, Bible believing church in Lexington. So it’s been around for 60 years and has grown from 5 couples to at Easter we had 6100. We are at 4 campuses now. But it is just a non-denominational church that the founders really wanted to start with a non-denominational church experience. They were very forward thinking making sure that the boundaries were as low as possible for people to come to Christ and come to experience just the joy of being a part of a great church.

Rich – Nice. Now were you there to help launch the campus you are currently in? Or did you transition in when it had already launched?

Tom – I was the lead pastor at the point of launch. Before that I had been around Grace, as I said, for 15 years. So it was, we were part of the strategizing team, the leadership team that came to the conclusion that our next growth mode was going to be, not through church planting which Grace had done a number of times prior, but through launching a campus.

Rich – I am looking forward to learning? A lot of times the perception of multi site church is they are all young churches that have been around for just 10 years and they are cranking out new ones. Grace Chapel has been around for a while. It’s a 60 year old church, planted some churches, been through transition. How have you lead that process of taking an established church to launch out? What are some of the things you have learned launching out new locations over these last number of years?

Tom – Ya it was a new endeavor and the idea in sort of a historic, traditional New England, moving a church that’s been around to consider the idea of launching multi site churches, with especially the technology involved in that, the video venue kinds of experiences in that, it was a significant visioning process for our whole congregations. Gordon McDonald was actually our lead pastor a number of years ago, many of you know Gordon. Brian Wilkinson is now our Senior Pastor. He really lead with a strong vision for it as we considered scalability and potential growth. It is very hard in New England to start a new church. We have done that a number of times, but it just takes years. So we began to cast vision with first of all some of our strategic stakeholders in the church, realizing that they are going to be early adopters. So we tried to engage folks with vision first and foremost. It’s always been a church that has sought to expand it’s reach and to grow. The idea to continue growth and outreach is really where we started, right at the heart of the Gospel.

Rich – What did that look like? How did you cast vision? Was it just from the stage or were there other kinds of events? How did you cast vision to people at your church.

Tom – We have a group of about 200 key leaders at church that we bring together about twice a year to talk about the vision of the church, where we are going and new initiatives…things like that. We really started with that, with those high level, key leaders. Began with just telling the story of where we have come to, and where we believe God is calling us and getting them informed initially, and hopefully on board.

Rich – Now I am assuming at some point you started gathering a small group of people to launch out. What did that process look like for you before you stepped out to launch the location.

Tom – A lot of it had to do with trying to decide where we were going to launch. So trying to decide who it was we were going to invite into the process. But the fact is we kind of surveyed our geographic area and asked ourselves, ‘Where is it most likely that we could establish something of strength?’ Especially being the first campus, we knew we had to have some good success early on in order to have the congregation believe this could happen in New England. So we looked at our small groups. We tried to find where we had pockets of small groups and strong leaders and tried to find people who have invested in Grace Chapel for a long time. So we sort of grew a circle, a target around those folks. Then listed some of those leaders as key leaders in that area. We pulled together about 12-14 of them and threw the idea out to them to see what the responsiveness would be. Just a dessert night. And there was great responsiveness. Almost like we had been dying for something.

Rich – ‘What’s taken you so long!’

Tom – Exactly!

Rich – That’s great!

Tom – So that’s the core group that we really began in earnest to lean into. With that group, many of them were small group leaders themselves. Probably consisted of 8 small groups represented by that group of folks. We just started to craft a message, craft a vision, and we asked them, not to follow us, but to lead with us. Really big deal.

Rich – That’s good. That’s good.

Tom – Really big deal to ask to be leaders with us in this endeavor. And they began to strategize with us in how we can make this as successful as possible. Just started to list names of people, and maps and who is it that we are going to invite and cast vision with?

Rich – Now what, how much time was there from that first dessert night until you started services? What did that look like from a time point of view?

Tom – So it was about a year from beginning to end. For our first we really needed to wade into the water of what does this look like. And build the congregations interest in it as well, because around it was the capital campaign and other things to help us get started.

Rich – What has it been for subsequent launches? How long going and cultivating the leadership team, how long is that process now?

Tom – It’s varied. We were opportunistic about an opportunity that came to us in Watertown. A church coming to an end. Coming to a close and they were looking for a place to give their building to. So because that timeframe was clear about when the building was coming to us and so forth that was probably about 6 months. And then recently we have opened another campus or venue at a local Christian school. Which we actually started renting before we knew exactly what we were going to do, leadership and all that. So that time frame has been a little more compressed to probably about 3 months, with a launch coming up in the fall.

Rich – OK. Now what do you call your location? Satellites, campuses, and how does that impact your approach to ministry with them?

Tom – We call them campuses. We really believe that satellite feels too small. It feels like it’s forming around something bigger than us. And size-wise that really is true. But one of the ah-ha moments along the way was, I really, I was asked to be the campus pastor. To leave the Grace Chapel that I had known, start something that was uncharted in New England, and whose success was unknown. Would it work here? And so I remember a point between just myself and the Lord one day, where I heard him very clearly say, ‘Tom, you can either lead small in this or you can lead big.’ And that helped me because I wondered, am I being shuttled off to Siberia? We are moving from a place where you know everyone to a place where you are going to start working deeping with a few folks to grow. It was that turning point that I realized that this was at the cutting edge of what God was doing at Grace Chapel and I believe in New England as well and the greater Boston Area. So I sort of embraced that.

Rich – That’s amazing! What do your services look like? You mentioned earlier that you use video. Give us a sense of the flavor of what you are doing. Because I can imagine there would be a resistance, people thinking, ‘I’m not sure the video thing would work in New England.’ Tell us what the services are like there.

Tom – So that was one of the significant points along the way was that I believed what we needed to create are venues where people can come and watch the sermon…you know, it is a video message. That part of the service is video that comes from Lexington. But everything else is live worship, very well developed from Kidstown, youth ministry, small groups, outreach, all of it. So when you come you are coming to a fully functioning church. The church has got to be the church. It’s got to be when people come they are experiencing life, comes with this community together, worship God, whose kids are cared for a loved, those who have a sense of purpose and outreach right in that community. So when you come, it feels like church.

Rich – Definitely. Now what would you say to other established churches who has maybe been around for a while who maybe are considering multi site, but aren’t sure this would translate. What would you say to those churches.

Tom – You always have the conversation when people come. ‘I hear you do a video? What’s that like?’ I was a sceptic early on. I thought is this really going to work around here? When you come your church experience is so rich and full, and the intimacy of hearing and seeing the message from as close as you get to is so rich as well. So you end up forgetting that Pastor Brian wasn’t even here today. We are experiencing that together. All of those anxieties go away with really our first experience with church.

Rich- Very cool. Well anything else you would like to share with our listeners before we jump into the lightning round?

Tom – Just one other thing that we asked as we went along building the core, we asked people not just from our church not just to come and worship with us for a year. But strategically we asked people to come worship with us and to serve with us for a full year. We were looking for 200 people to start us off on that journey. That decision has really laid the foundation and the groundwork of the way people experience church here. We have great, great participants, partners, volunteers, people who are really deeply invested in making this a great church. That’s the reason why I love pastoring in Grace Chapel Wilmington because everyone jumps in.

Rich – How did you end up at the 200 number? How did you land at that as the target?

Tom – I think we talked and prayed a lot about what is it that we feel is important to establish a place where there is enough of a critical mass. And we knew also that we wanted to start with two services so that we could have a full Kidstown experience at both hours so that nobody misses church each week. A lot of times with one service you can have a number of your folks miss by serving the kids. So we thought if we could have a 100 people committed to 2 services that’s a start that we can really grow from.

Rich – Build from.


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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.