It happens periodically.  I am doing something and then BAM!  I am overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness. The best thing about getting older is this: the accumulation of God’s faithfulness. The sense of gratitude grows more profound with every passing year. The older I get the more faith I have because I have witnessed the faithfulness of God. Throughout our years as a church God not only delivers on His promises, but He also has a a few holy surprises up His sleeve. Surprises that confirm we are going in the right direction, or conversely convince us we need to take another look at what we are doing. Whatever His response, I thank God for ordering our footsteps.

We were a church of less than 30 people when we started, but we had God-sized dreams.Back then, I was so locked into my own idea of growth when we started this church that I couldn’t imagine the opportunities God would provide us. So while I am grateful for where we’ve come from, I’m even more excited about where we’re headed. Where will we be when Northstar turns 25?  I have no idea, but I know this. We will always seem to underestimate what God can do in a year, so how can we know what he will do in another decade?  I wouldn’t even hazard a guess, but I will say this: The God who began a good work is going to carry it to completion if we continue to pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on Him.

Some of you may be dazed and confused. And you are probably wondering what new surprises we may have up our sleeve at Northstar. I can understand why. Things are happening pretty fast.  But let me assure you that there is a singular driving force behind why are doing what we are doing and the changes we are making. But it’s all about, always about, one more person surrendering their life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 115:1

I know I have covered this subject before but I want to go into a little more detail on our vision as a church over the next few years. And while there are other tenets to our vision and the strategy to achieve that vision I want to concentrate on one: why we ultimately decided and are  laying the foundation for a a multi-location church that began when we opened East Bay. You may have heard this. But it bears repeating because of its importance. Defining moments occur when we direct our lives onto a new pathway, borne from God’s leading. Because this is a defining moment in the history of Northstar I would rather over communicate than leave questions unanswered.

We moved to a multi-site strategy out of a spatial necessity. God was bringing to our doors more people than we could handle. Surprise. We were doing as many services as we could in an attempt to level the numbers at any one service. But in spite of our best efforts, we were having to turn people away.

Since that time, we have embraced multi-site as a strategy for growing our church and reaching our city, not merely as a temporary way to deal with a space problem. In addition to the East Bay campus we have plans on launching several additional locations in the future.

We believe that at the core of our mission as a church is the commission to seek and save the lost in our city, and we believe that the presence of a local body of believers is the greatest evangelistic tool for any community. We also believe that planting churches in strategic cities around the world is the New Testament’s most effective evangelistic strategy, which is why our vision is to plant 25 locations around the world by the year 2021.

The multi-site model is an acceptable, if not better, alternative to addressing a church’s growth by building bigger buildings, multiplying services, or planting new churches. Yes, we have added services, moved into a bigger building and planted new churches.  But the multi-site model is the best option for where we believe God is leading us at this time. Permit me to briefly explain why we chose adding locations  over building a new building, adding services or planting churches. the three I just mentioned.

The multi-site strategy is a more financially responsible response to growth than building a huge building. Buildings are expensive. Large buildings that would solve our space problems at Northstar are enormously expensive. They are also inefficient uses of space. Large auditoriums (that seat several thousand people) are difficult to use for any other purpose than one weekly assembly of the entire church body. Adding new locations allows us to to save much of the money usually spent on a building. Venues in which smaller congregations can meet are much more plentiful and can be rented on a Sunday or, if owned, can be used throughout the week for other purposes. Statistics suggest that adding new campuses is a zero-sum game, financially speaking. Most campuses can become self-sufficient quickly which was our experience at East Bay.

Adding services was and is a temporary solution if Northstar continues to grow. When we made the decision to add services we knew that if God continued to bless Northstar, we would reach a limit of how many any one location or I as teaching Pastor can handle. In addition, there is the  geographical concern of one large building or multiple services. Having people drive more than 20 minutes to get to our main campus can hinder evangelism and local community ministry.

Some people believe that when Northstar reached our capacity, we should just plant a new church. This is certainly a good option, and one we are pursuing concurrent with our campus-multiplying strategy. However, most studies show that church planting will not in itself alleviate space needs of a local church. Statistics indicate that even when churches convinced some of their people to go and start a new church, they ended up making up that growth in the original congregation within a few months.  In other words, the chances are that we will still be dealing with space problems each year. People chose Northstar for a reason. Because they chose Northstar we have the responsibility to steward the people God sent to us. That is difficult to do if we start a new church rather than a new Northstar satellite.

But the real motivation behind our decision to go to the multi-campus model is this: The closer a congregation meets to where the people it is trying to reach live, the more effective its evangelism and community outreach. It make sense. Being closer to where the people live helps you engage them, invite them to your services, and perceive the needs of the local community. Our desire is for everyone in the Panama City area to be a short commute to a thriving evangelical church or a Northstar congregation.

Part 2: More on the multicampus model.