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Home > 2014 > March > Farewell Franchise Ministry

You find the entrance to John Mark Comer's office at the back of a hip coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. Stop for a moment to savor a couple shots of freshly roasted espresso pulled by a man who looks like a logger with sleeve tattoos and an iPhone. Leave the cup in the bin, then make your way through the renovated warehouse. When Comer welcomes you into his small office, note the view of the Pearl District, the stuffed deer head on the wall, his retro bicycle, and that mid-century couch under the window.

Only the Bible on the desk and the theological books on the shelves suggest this is still a pastor's space. Comer's warm welcome and gesture toward a comfortable seat open a lively conversation.

Comer came of age in the ministry spotlight, taking over Solid Rock, a megachurch in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, when he was only in his late 20s. From early on, Solid Rock had the makings not just of a large church, but a very large church, even in the "post-Christian" Northwest.

I'd heard that the church was restructuring. People on the fringes gave me conflicting reports—some said the church was splitting, albeit amicably. Others reported that it was just expanding to more locations. Still others claimed it was planting new, unrelated churches.

Each version turned out to be both wrong and right. I sat down with Comer to get the story straight.

You're transitioning from "multi-site" to a "family of churches." Are you just calling the same dog by a different name?

Definitely not. They have some similarities, but there's a vital move toward locality and autonomy with the "family" concept.

Solid Rock Church started out in the suburbs and grew to be a megachurch. After we'd grown we planted a campus in downtown, then another campus in a different suburban neighborhood. We did the multi-site thing, but from the beginning we never used video venues. We never believed they would work even in our original suburban context, and certainly not in urban, anti-corporate Portland. There is such an emphasis here on small batch, home-grown, do it yourself, local, organic, etc. People around here place a high value on authenticity and have skepticism toward "chains."

The multi-site model is basically ministry franchising. It's the Starbucks model of "local" church. Now the good thing about Starbucks is you get the exact same cup of coffee everywhere in the world. I was in England recently (not known for good coffee), and seeing the green Starbucks sign was like finding an oasis in the desert.

With multi-site models and video-venue preaching, large churches have changed how we've done ecclesiology for 2,000 years.

But the bad thing about Starbucks is that their conformity flattens the creativity of individual baristas or shop owners. It's an a-cultural expression. It all tastes the same. So whether you're in downtown Portland or in Mumbai, India, you get the exact same cup of burnt-tasting coffee.

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Related Topics:CallingCommunityCreativityMillennialsMissionVocation
From Issue:Transitions, March 2014 | Posted: March 5, 2014

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Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

John Newland

March 11, 2014  4:58pm

Love hearing about a "megachurch" pastor talking about the incarnational requirement of ministry. Also love hearing about the logistical nightmare of trying to create a family of churches that have some centralization to them. We've been struggling at it since 2009 (on an infinitely smaller and less successful scale!) and I recently began thinking that nobody should ever try this. Maybe no one should try it, but I'm oddly encouraged that Solid Rock shares that what they are doing is hard!

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Missy Scudder

March 11, 2014  3:49pm

I really like this guy and what he is saying. Makes so much sense. I know its hard work, but in the end he is obeying what the Holy Spirit has led him to do. If only more churches would consider this, we might really know what the meaning of "missional" is.

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Ian Guy

March 11, 2014  2:40pm

This seems to be so much common sense - and in many ways what many of our traditional denominations have done for generations. Establishing local congregations that are connected with their communities - an essential part of their community. I'm reminded of something Marva Dawn once said to myself and a group of pastors here in New Zealand, it was along the lines that the local church is the best place from which to reach the local community and that the local pastors are the ones God has called and released to that community. We need to trust God in our situation and while insight, support from elsewhere is important it is those on the ground who are the church who carry the responsibility best in their own community.

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March 11, 2014  2:11pm

Sounds like a great experiment and a lot of hard work! I am excited to see the results. Having planted a regional campus for a megachurch, this sounds like a much more doable plan. One of the difficulties I encountered was needing to stick with the brand rather than being free to make adjustments that would have better suited the community where we were located. The only correction I would suggest in the article is that sending people out IS growing the church bigger! At the same time it gives more variety and this is good because it does take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

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