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How a Denomination Helped Its Churches to Break the 200 Barrier

An interview with Phil Chorlian of the Vineyard Churches.
How a Denomination Helped Its Churches to Break the 200 Barrier

Ed: Why did you decide to organize a group of pastors to work through Breaking the 200 Barrier in their churches?

Phil: The Vineyard has about 600 churches in the U.S. and 75 percent of them are under 200. One of the things that we’ve noticed through the years is that Breaking the 200 Barrier releases a lot of fruit.

Conversions go up, baptisms increase, first time guests, stewardship, leadership, small groups, all of the key indicators of a thriving, missional church kick into overdrive once a church breaks the 200 barrier.

So we thought, “What if we sowed into churches that were between 100-200 attenders and see if we could help some of them break through this barrier?” We did a launch meeting in Phoenix where we invited all the Vineyard churches that were between 100-200 to this 2-day event.

The conference was free, but they had to pay for travel and lodging. Given how pricey that can be, I was very pleased by the response. Some senior pastors came alone, but many came with some key leaders or even a team.

We had about 170 pastors and leaders from about 70 different churches travel to Phoenix. I think there’s something that happens when you get people together in a room who are after the same thing.

Plus, since we’re the Vineyard, we like to have the opportunity to engage in prayer ministry with folks so it’s not just about receiving more information, but hopefully about having something spiritually imparted.

We gave people options concerning the level of engagement they could choose. If they just wanted to come to a “Breaking the 200 Barrier” 2-day conference and have that be the end of it, they could just attend. For those who wanted more, they could purchase your “Breaking the 200 Barrier” course at half price (Vineyard USA paid the other half).

For those who wanted even more engagement, they could participate in weekly hour-long zoom meetings that went on for four months after the conference. About 50 of the churches purchased your course, and many of those church participated in the weekly video calls.

Ed: How does being in a cohort impact things?

Phil: I think the key to breaking barriers is that we keep the conversation going. If we aren’t intentional about learning new ways of doing things, implementing new systems, constantly tweaking current systems, we’re probably going to plateau and begin to decline.

The cohort keeps these issues on the front burner for these leaders and encourages them to continue to evaluate, grow, and change. What I’ve seen from every leader of a growing church is that they’re hungry to learn and to grow. You can’t teach hunger, but you can throw some logs on the fire.

I think the cohort helps with that.

Ed: What have been some of the results so far?

Phil: Pastors and leaders are learning some new things. There are some things about church growth and church systems that you simply need to learn. For some pastors, church life can devolve into working on your sermon and dealing with the latest crisis in the church. There are best practices out there that we need to learn and implement.

We talked about having better systems for small groups, Sunday services, leadership development, financial stewardship, effective evangelism, raising up volunteers, etc. The pastors who are participating in the cohort are learning and implementing a lot and beginning to see some good fruit.

A number of churches had a much more effective outreach at Easter than years past, and we will hopefully see some sustained growth as they move into the fall.

Ed: What are you hoping to see?

Phil: We are keeping the conversation going this fall with monthly video meetings rather than weekly meetings. Actually, we’re going to do a deeper dive into your course, breaking down one or two sessions a month and helping churches make systemic and cultural changes that will hopefully produce long-term fruit.

I’m praying that we’ll see 30-40 churches break this barrier over the next year or so. I’m also hoping that we can help create a culture within the wider Vineyard that is expectant that God can use our churches to reach the communities that he has placed us in.

Paul said that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. People need what we have to offer, and are hungry for a genuine encounter with God that is founded on the truth of the gospel. I hope that pastors and leaders will have a new level of faith concerning what is possible when we preach the gospel that will lead to a new level of hunger and expectation about what God can do in and through our churches.

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How a Denomination Helped Its Churches to Break the 200 Barrier