Observing Neil Cole and Ed Young Jr. is a study in contrasts. The soft-spoken Cole quietly entered the vacant sanctuary where we were meeting. He lingered in the back for a while before anyone realized he had arrived. By contrast, Young burst into the room with a shout—every head turned. The sanctuary was immediately electrified.
Their contrasting personalities are paired with very different approaches to ministry. Ed Young Jr. is senior pastor of Fellowship Church, a seeker-driven congregation that began in Dallas in 1990. After surpassing 20,000 in weekly attendance, Fellowship Church is still growing with a highly structured multi-site model that uses video broadcasts of Young's sermons. The megachurch now has four locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and recently launched its fifth campus in Miami, Florida.
Neil Cole is a pastor and the director of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA), a "growing family of organic church networks." Cole advocates a decentralized, micro-church strategy to reach the growing number of people who will never be attracted to a worship service. CMA began in 1990, the same year as Young's Fellowship Church. In that time, Cole's network has launched hundreds of churches in homes and coffeeshops across forty states and thirty countries.
The contrasts between Young and Cole are striking: extrovert and introvert, megachurch and microchurch, centralized and decentralized. But what's surprising is what these two leaders share in common. Beyond a passion for reaching the lost, both men played basketball in college and both majored in art. Both cut their pastoral teeth at megachurches, and both followed their fathers professionally—Young is a second-generation pastor; Cole is a sixth-generation lifeguard. These commonalities only make their divergent ministry strategies that much more intriguing.
Leadership editors Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien met with Young and Cole at Fellowship Church's Miami campus to discuss their different approaches to mission. Befitting Fellowship's attractional model, the entire church had been converted into a studio set for the summer sermon series, "At the Movies." Film posters and a marquee were displayed outside the entrance; even the restroom signage was changed to resemble dressing rooms.
While most pastors are probably not as committed to the seeker model as Ed Young Jr. or as gung-ho for the organic/missional model as Neil Cole, investigating the divergent ends of the spectrum is helpful for clarifying your own church's strategy for reaching out with the gospel.
How did you come to faith, and how did that inform the type of ministry you do today?
Neil Cole: I came to Christ in college and grew at a very strong megachurch. I ultimately went on staff there. Later, when the senior pastor left, our church went from 3,500 people to 600. So I've seen the struggles of being part of a large church staff.
After finishing seminary and leading a small church in L.A., my denomination asked me to oversee church planting in Southern California and Arizona. We really wanted our first plant to succeed, so we poured in a lot of money. We paid for two full-time pastors, a sound system, worship teams, lots of publicity, consultants and toolkits. But a year later the church died.
What went wrong?
Cole: I think God wanted to teach us something. The parables about the kingdom are usually about starting with something small, like a mustard seed. We learned a church cannot be bought; it must be planted. And that means starting small.