This account is based on actual events, but details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
As the interview drew to a close, the pastoral search committee asked if he had any questions. Full of enthusiasm and a genuine desire to please God, Mason Hale asked what they envisioned for the struggling fellowship. Without hesitation the chairman said, "We want to be the Saddleback of the South."
Mason welcomed that challenge. He and his wife packed up their four kids and moved to the fastest growing county in North Carolina to turn Cliffside Community Church, a congregation of 400, into a thriving mega-church.
It was a young congregation. Although this was his first senior pastorate, he was the oldest person on staff. Cliffside was on the verge of major growth; Mason could just feel it.
Things went well at first. Young families joined the church. In seven years, Cliffside grew from 400 to more than 1,000. They helped start another church: New Life Fellowship. Mason commissioned one of his most faithful elders, Jacob Reed, to pastor this new church. Jacob was intelligent and a natural leader. Mason would miss him at Cliffside, but he knew he was the right man for the job.
But just as God called Jacob away, he brought something new to Mason's doorstep. The leaders of a small, dying church came to Mason for help. They said, "Our church hasn't had a pastor for three years. It's stalling, and soon it will die. We have less than 100 attending, but each person is committed to seeing our church survive. Would you consider a merger?"
Mason thought it was a great idea and took their request to his elders, certain they'd agree to support this church in need. Yet the elders were divided. Frank Montrose pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow. Over the past seven years, he'd often been averse to change.
"I don't like it," Frank said. "Shouldn't we be asking why this church is doing so poorly?"
Danny Spencer responded quickly: "Come on, Frank. Don't be so suspicious. You heard Mason; they're fighting as hard as they can. They just can't catch a break."
Frank wasn't convinced: "If we merge with them, we'll have to take on their debt and their problems. Besides a facility, what do they bring to the table that will benefit us?"
Mason inwardly rolled his eyes. Danny said, "Experience, for one thing. We could use a few older voices at Cliffside." And none of them could be as cantankerous as you are, Frank, thought Mason. "Don't worry," he said. "If their leaders are any indication, they'll be willing to do whatever it takes to get their church out of its rut."
Eventually Frank and all the elders agreed, and it was settled. They adopted the dying church and made it a satellite campus.
Encouraged by two victories in a row—the church plant and the satellite campus—Mason decided to move forward with a third initiative he'd been contemplating for some time. Over the past few years the area's demographics had changed. Their community was now multiethnic, and this was causing a lot of tension in the local school system. Troubled by the ethnic homogeneity of Cliffside, Mason decided, We're going to embrace a multiethnic approach.