We’ve started to study God’s activity in some of the most effective churches and want to share best practices and strategies. As we’ve studied more than 300,000 people in 1,300 churches of all different denominations, cultures, and sizes, we’ve found a few things that are consistent with the most effective churches at disciple making.
One of those things: Build a bridge into your local community.
Nick Honerkamp is one of those pastors who does just that: builds into the community. His heart beats for the community of Clyde, North Carolina. Nick is senior pastor at New Covenant Church (one of the most effective churches in America!), which collaborated with 30 other churches to tackle their community’s homeless problem, starting a shelter and supporting it completely with church funds and volunteers. This same group of churches, realizing that public school budgets were tight, pitched in to clean up school properties before the academic year began. Since this church partnership effort to support the schools in 2008, 68 churches have joined together to adopt all the public schools in the county. (Taken from MOVE, 2011).
We asked Nick to take a few minutes and answer some questions.
Willow Creek Association: We love your heart for the community! What sparked your vision and heart for other churches in Clyde?
Nick Honerkamp: One day I was reading Acts chapter 1 and I saw something that impacted me deeply. In this passage, Jesus spoke to the disciples for forty days about His favorite subject, the kingdom of God. Then the disciples asked Jesus one question, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” That one distinction changed the way I view ministry. God desires to establish His eternal reign in the lives of all the people in our community. But, too many times the spiritual leaders in that community are focused mainly on the success of their individual churches. Now, I am not saying that it is evil to want our own church to grow and be successful. I just firmly believe that there are things God wants to do that are so big that one church can’t pull it off. Dino Rizzo says in his book Servolution, “the measure of a great church is to make every other church better”. Sometimes we have to make decisions that seem counter-productive to our own interests. For example, when a brand new k-12 Christian school wanted to move into our new children’s building (and couldn’t afford to pay rent) we had a hard decision to make. It would cost us as a church but benefit the kingdom. So, we moved them in and there still with us three years later.
WCA: Why do you require your staff to get involved with a community organization?
NH: Before God lets us lead, we must learn how to serve. I believe there is a void of spiritual leadership in the daily activities of our communities. We tend to segregate secular from spiritual. I don’t see it that way. I believe everything belongs to God and there is a need for Christian leaders to be involved in every aspect of our towns and cities. But, before we get to lead we must first learn how to serve. Our church was isolated from the other churches around us and we were not connected to our community at all. So, I required each of our staff to serve on a board in our community. That did three things, it educated us to the needs around us, it gave us a focus outside of our church walls, and it developed kingdom relationships that allows us to do kingdom works.
WCA: What are some of the things that you did to start laying the groundwork for collaborating with other pastors and churches?
NH: First, we had to be willing to change the way we measure success. We had to stop measuring our success by growth inside the church to what is our impact outside the church. That meant we had to start supporting initiatives that were led by other churches and support their success. Secondly, we had to identify a need in our community that the body of Christ should be meeting. For us that was the homeless shelter. It was a need our community could not solve and it was something that all of us, no matter what our individual theologies were, could get behind. Thirdly, by partnering together on that initiative we created authentic relationships that helped us to move from social projects to doing ministry together.
WCA: What’s the biggest barrier that you faced as you started to collaborate? How did you overcome it?
NH: Our biggest struggle has been an ungodly mindset that we are this kind of church and they are that kind of church- so we don’t have anything in common. The amazing thing is that 90-95% of our theology and beliefs are actually the same. We had to choose to focus on what we have in common and not how we were different. Secondly, we realized that just like in our personal lives there are varying levels of relationships in the church world too. There are some churches we do a once a year “Day of Service” for our public school systems. There are other churches we go on foreign mission trips with for one week. There are other churches we partner with to fund and staff the homeless shelter. Then there are those rare relationships that we can partner on most anything (we do worship services, men’s and women’s meetings and Vacation Bible School together).
WCA: What’s one thing that you would tell a pastor who is hesitant to start collaborating with other churches in the community?
NH: What I am proposing is that we make ourselves available for authentic relationships that allow us to partner together on God-sized initiatives. I am not saying for us to lose our autonomy or distinctiveness. I am not saying go join the local minister’s association (please don’t). What I am suggesting is there are enriching relationships that God wants us to have and out of those relationships we will be able to draw support and encouragement for our own lives. And, together we may find a way to work together that will release the blessing of the Lord on our communities. Why would we not want to be a part of that?
Nick Honerkamp, Senior Pastor at New Covenant Church
“Your partner in the other boat!”
Thanks for the interview Nick!
> Find more info on the book, MOVE (where Nick is featured).