Successfully Contextualizing in a Multisite Church

The multisite model would do well to take some pointers from Costco.

The high school choir at our church goes on mission trips each summer to various places across the United States and abroad. We’ve been taking these trips for 20 years and, though the location changes, the trip format is an exact science at this point. Each year we assemble a service team that goes ahead of the students and prepares for their arrival. Critical to this preparation is a trip to Costco once we arrive. It’s so critical, in fact, that when the students traveled to the English countryside this past summer the service team drove over an hour and a half to the nearest city boasting a Costco. 

Costco and Contextualization

Costco is critical to the trip because they carry the items and quantities of snacks and supplies we need. In addition to the supplies we need and count on being in stock, Costco also carries items that specifically appeal to their individual store locations. This is a picture of one of our service team members at the annual Costco run in Newcastle, UK this past summer. Notice the size of this bag of tea! 

Costco knows the Brits like their tea.  Costco understands contextualization.


What multisite can learn from Costco

The multisite model would do well to take some pointers from Costco. Reaching people in a new location and context is a key component of the multisite strategy. It must be the goal of multisite churches to discover a way to take a core message about the gospel and share it through various locations and contexts. Here are some practical ways to achieve successful contextualization:

1. Understand the Context

The campus pastor must become an expert on his local context. During the first 90 days, he should spend time in the area, meet with city officials, connect with local school principals and coaches and have coffee and lunch at the local restaurants. Don’t let demographic studies be a substitute for personal insight.

2. Train Leadership to Think Contextually

Campus staff and leadership in multisite churches will often either approach ministry exactly the same as the original location or try to completely change things. You might hear things like “why mess with a proven formula” or conversely “that just won’t work here”.  Steer your leaders away from these extremes. Encourage your staff and leadership teams to connect with the people in their areas of ministry and use them as a sounding board for ministry ideas. This way when you approach a season where a ministry initiative will not work in your context you will know why, based on research and the pulse of your local ministry.

3. Pray for the Context

A campus pastor must lead the way in spending time in prayer over the needs, opportunities and people in his city. Ask God to break your heart for the spiritual needs of the people in your area. Pray for salvation and repentance, discernment, wisdom and against temptation. Teach your church body to do the same. Pass this priority of prayer along to your church staff, so they get a vision for what God could do through them and the campus you serve.

4. Live in the Context

Ideally a campus pastor should physically live in the context of those he is serving. I realize this is not always possible due to practical or financial factors. But, if possible I recommend living in the area, participating in sports and activities in the same community as your church members. Your ability to gauge the context will be much more accurate if it is your context.

5. Mission Over Method

The ability to transfer the mission and ministry of your original location while reaching people within a specific context is challenging, but rewarding. In my opinion, the default should always be to try it the way it is done at your original location, unless you are certain it won’t translate. That being said, ministry methods won’t always transfer. You need to know this going in.

Published October 12, 2021

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