From the Small Town to the City
Whatever God thinks up, He will power up.
In small-town Stanley, Wisconsin (population: 3,625, counting the prison), Pastor Mike Thompson is watching his country church, Faith EFC, move into urban church planting. Currently, the church (with roughly 180 members) has three church plants in-process, with one in the university community of Eau Claire. Curious to know more, EFCA Now sat down to ask him a few questions. The interviewer is Gary Hoag, EFCA campaign and church liaison, and visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
You’re a country church in a small town. What made you aim to plant in cities?
Mike: One of the mottos that drives much of what we do in ministry is this: “Whatever God thinks up, He will power up.” With that in mind, I was not particularly seeking to plant in a city but rather to observe where the Spirit of God was at work and join Him there as prompted by His Spirit. Personally mentoring and coaching a godly leader from the city of Eau Claire is the catalyst that resulted in a city plant.
Have you also planted in rural areas? If so, what’s the difference in process and strategy?
Mike: Yes, we are currently in the planting process in nearby Cadott and just beginning in Hayward—both with populations under 2,500.
Some of the mechanics of planting are the same no matter the setting. For example, if we want to plant a church, we need a visionary shepherd-leader. If there is no identified shepherd, there will be no new ministry. Vision leaks, and it takes a visionary leader on site to constantly call people back to the vision and mission.
One of the biggest differences between urban and rural is with the way people meet their needs in their community. In an urban context, often people seek affinity groups they can join. But in a rural setting, a large percentage of people have families and networks that meet their need for belonging. In an urban setting you can say, “Come and join my small group or outreach event.” But in a rural setting, the planting pastor has to join the groups that already exist and then gain trust. And that takes time and personal investment in people and families.
You say you shifted your thinking as a church body from “if we build a building, people will come” to “let’s send people out.” How did you make that shift?
Mike: One of the best ways to cast a new vision is to clearly understand the existing mindset, values and vision, even if they have not been articulated. So I began at Stanley by first identifying the old vision: Build a big facility, and the facility will attract new people and fix any problems we may have.
With our new vision, we desire to grow by multiplying healthy churches and healthy leaders wherever God gives us favor. So we went through the process of replanting the church with newer biblical values and invited everyone to go along on the journey—commissioning them into the mission field, to be a pastor of another church or to begin a vital fruitful ministry.
Did you have to overcome any hurdles to get people eager to be sent?
Mike: Two vision killers are lack of skills and lack of confidence. Regarding skills, we have formed a robust equipping ministry to transfer knowledge and skills to perspective planting pastors and their support teams. We seek to neutralize the lack of confidence by offering face-to-face coaching for emerging leaders. This personal investment has resulted in about a dozen people in our network who are equipped at a pastor-elder level.
And we constantly applaud the congregation for being daring in their willingness to be part of the multiplication. I do everything I can to show people how they can plug into the new paradigms and dare to dream big dreams.