Mike Linch on Making Your Church the Center of Your Community
Mike Linch is the senior pastor at NorthStar Church and you need to get to know him and his church! So many church leaders dream of making an impact in the community they are place in … Mike’s church is taking action towards it! Every year the church volunteers thousands of hours in various community programs. They also open up their building to be a blessing to the community. Listen in as Mike talks through how NorthStar is looking for ways to connect with their community!
Interview Highlights //
01:32 // Mike serves at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Georgia
01:01 // 17 years ago NorthStar began as a church for people who didn’t go to church
01:40 // Rich was attracted to NorthStar because of their heart to serve the community
02:25 // NorthStar volunteers meet community needs
03:30 // Serving in the community is great first step into church involvement
04:38 // NorthStar staff initiate the relationship with organizations and seek out needs
05:00 // The goal is to make what the community is doing better, not compete with it
06:55 // NorthStar uses the facility to serve the community – 150 events of 250 or more people just last year.
07:25 // Get more people from the community in the building so they return when ‘life hits the wall.’
08:50 // ‘We want to serve others until they ask why.’
09:45 // First step is to ask questions of community leaders
12:10 // ‘We want to be the church that the community can’t do without.’
13:10 // Rich tells of a campus pastor and mayor from Liquid Church
Lightning Round Highlights
Book Worth Reading // Spiritual Leadership by Richard and Henry Blackaby
Inspiring Ministries // North Point Community Church
Inspiring Leader // Dr. (Billy) Graham
What does he do for fun? // Football chaplain, baseball pitching coach
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Well, good morning. Welcome to the unSeminary Podcast. My name’s Rich Birch, your host. Thanks for tuning in! We hope you are having a great week as you lead up to this weekend. Today we’ve got Mike Linch on the phone. Super excited to have him join us on the show today. He’s from NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Georgia. Mike’s a great guy, fantastic leader and I’m really looking forward to having you on the show today, Mike. Thanks for being here.
Mike – Great to be here Rich. Glad to be with you guys and look forward to what’s ahead!
Rich – Nice. Well, this is fantastic. I love your church. I love what you guys are doing. Why don’t we start with…just give us a sense of what you are doing. Kind of tell us a little bit of the NorthStar story.
Mike – Absolutely. We began 17 years ago. We turned 17 this past January. We began, like a lot of other churches, as a church for people who didn’t go to church. We were sort of pioneers. There was one other church start in our community back then. It made it a little easier. I think we didn’t face a lot of struggles church plants face today because there are so many other churches like them. But we had a heart, what separated us, was we had a heart to serve and reach our community. And that was probably still today the thing that separates us the most. It’s been a pretty amazing ride over the last 17 years. A lot of people coming and a lot of influence we’ve been able to gain in our community.
Rich – Ya, this is the thing that really attracted me. I leaned forward and I said ‘You do what at your church?” I think a lot of churches talk about serving their community. That sounds great. Who’s going to be the person that puts up their hand and says ‘Ya, we don’t want to serve our community”? Why don’t you give us a sense of some of the ways that NorthStar does that.
Mike – Absolutely. Really it’s a 365 day a year deal. We have 2 full time people on our staff that do nothing but reach out into our community. We serve through schools, ball fields, businesses, business associates. Any opportunity that we get. We begin the year by meeting with the key players int he community: the mayors, principals, social workers, finding out what the needs are, and then we partner with the community to help meet those needs. So rather than us creating our ideas, we find out what the needs are. We have something they don’t have. We have volunteers.
Rich – Right.
Mike – We have thousands of people that call NorthStar home. Statistics tells us that 80% of people have the gift of helps or service. So really you are activating them and giving them the opportunity. So we have a thing on our website, NorthStarChurch.org, that’s called “In The Community.” You can click on it and volunteer for everything from special needs kick ball buddies, volunteering at high school football games, to volunteering as a mentor, to whatever it may be. But there are tons and tons of opportunities to serve.
Rich – Hmm. Now I would guess there are a lot of churches listening thinking, ‘Gosh, I am having a hard enough time getting volunteers for my own stuff. How do I do that?” Give us a sense of what that actually looks like for for people who are attending NorthStar.
Mike – Sure. It’s culture. And over the course of time it becomes culture. People know, that’s what you are all about. And for a lot of people, it’s a great first step. They’re not going to feel like they know enough. Our normal person is a person who ends up in a church. That’s 70% of our crowd is I would say ‘dechurch’. They probably had church in childhood somewhere but they have been out for a while. They are former Catholics…60-70% of our folks grew up Catholic, so this is all brand new to them. Learning the BIble and what that’s all about, so they’re not going to teach a small group. They are not going to lead a children’s class, but they will flip a hamburger on Friday night. They will hold a kids hand and run down the baseline at a special needs kick ball game. They will serve at a homeless shelter or they’ll cook breakfast because that’s something they can do. And what we’ve found is that it’s a platform for getting them involved in more ministry at the church.
Rich – Right, absolutely. Now how does your staff interface, take the special needs sports association, how do they actually interface with them? How does that work? What does that transaction look like?
Mike – Ya, we call them to find out what the needs are and what they will do is adopt a team. Our church will adopt one team, and we provide volunteers for throughout the year. But we work straight through the Parks and Rec Department because one of the flaws that we saw when we were coming out, is that the church creates our own models, and then we compete against what our community is doing. And our goal was to make what our community does better. So rather than creating our own sports…this is just our model, it’s not right or wrong… but rather than creating our own sports league we said, “Let’s partner with what they are already doing and enhance what they do because it makes our community a better place to live.”
Rich – Absolutely. Now I also notices that this extends, not only to your people, but also your facilities. Why don’t’ you talk a little bit about that because this is actually how I originally got introduced to NorthStar. I was in Georgia, at your church, at an event. And it was late at night, like 10 o’clock at night. Your staff was there. And the organization I was there with, I was there kind of helping them, and then I said to them “They are giving you good service. What are you guys paying to rent this place?” And they leaned forward and said, “We aren’t paying anything. Now we will probably give them some money.” I said “You are kidding me! This staff member is here, so late at night, helping out! That’s amazing!” That’s incredible! Now why don’t you tell us a little bit about even the facility use, because you have extended it to that.
Mike – Ya, that’s very good Rich. And I think this is something that I go back to the beginning of NorthStar when we were renting schools and we were meeting, we used to always say “We want out buildings to be occupied more than Sunday mornings.” And then as we sort of organically grew into this, we discovered what an opportunity around our community, schools, businesses, they love to do offsite. They love to. Let’s open up what God’s give us. We have a large…we’ve got about 66 thousand square feet of buildings between the two buildings that are on campus. Let’s leverage those. Let’s not use them everyday for something for the church. And what’s evened up happening over time, last year there were 150 events of 250 people or more that don’t go to the church. So these weren’t church events. They were baccalaureates for the schools. We host a lot of educators breakfasts and lunch. Business associations. And that doesn’t’ include Chik-Fil-A, a local food organization, they do their corporate operator meetings for that community, we host all of those. And for us, it’s a way for people who don’t go to church to comfortably come into an environment and to learn, ‘You know what? This isn’t that scary of a place.” We want to be the church that when their life hits a wall, and they don’t know any other church, they go “You know, I went to a swim banquet there. I went to a lacrosse banquet. I went to a baseball banquet.” And they feel comfortable. And so that’s our heart. That’s why we do it that way.
Rich – Gosh, I just want to slow down there and just take that in. So you are telling me last year you had 150 events. Almost every other day an event of 200+ people at your building. That’s amazing!
MIke – We try not to occupy it with church stuff. The easiest thing when you get out of a school if you are a church planter, ‘Gosh, we’ve got out own building. So 7 days a week we’ve got to put something there.” We were just the opposite. We want those things to happen in homes. We meet Sundays there corporately. But during the week we want our people in the community. In their neighborhoods. We meet in businesses for small groups. I think a lot more churches would do it, but their buildings are tied up with what? They’re tied up with….
Rich – Classes or whatever.
Mike – ….stuff for their people. Which aren’t wrong, but it’s our mission, our opportunity to serve in our community. And so our little tag line is ‘We want to serve others until they ask why.’ And our facilities managers, they take on that. They really see their job more as host for our campus, and concierge to our campus, and making sure people have a great experience while they are there.
Rich – And that happened for me. I was like, ‘I can’t believe these people are still serving us.’ It’s amazing. That’s fantastic. Now what would you say to a church…there’s going to be pastors listening, church leaders listening today, they’ve got extra time in their schedule, they’ve got extra square footage. What would you say? How could they take some first steps in that direction? What could they learn if they can’t go out and hire two full time people to look after that. What would you say to them?
Mike – Absolutely. And I’ve met with a lot of churches on the subject. There’s a lot of work that we’ve done with churches. I would say, talk to business leaders in your community. Talk with schools, and begin with small steps. Say, “When you do your teacher’s meetings, they get tired of meeting in the cafeteria for days, we would love to host you in our church.” We don’t provide the food necessarily. They provide all of their own stuff most of the time. Sometimes we do. But most of the time they just want somewhere to go, and then our job is to create a great experience for them. So I would begin with something small, and ours have gone from meeting with a school or a business, to business associations, to the county school district hosting all their special needs teacher training, counseling training and crisis training. They do all that there because it’s a way for their people to get offsite. We have all the facilities, and I believe that God has given those to us to serve people with, and to bless people with. If we have staff around, any staff member can do that. Most churches have someone who cleans, someone on facilities or whatever else, and to me it gives them so much more vision and ownership for what the church is than ‘I clean the toilets and mop the floors.’ No, I am a host for people who don’t know the Lord, and I may be, our two guys, they affect as many lives as anybody on our staff. And so they have a huge buy in to who we are.
Rich – Absolutely. I love it. The thing I love about your church is, it’s bigger than a tactical issue. It’s really at the heart of who you are. You see your church as really involved in community ministry and saying how do we engage. And this is just flowing from that. It’s almost like you see your entire church, as almost like a community center. A community serving organization.
Mike – Ya, that’s a great way to say it Rich. You know one of the things we always say is that we want to be that bridge that connect businesses, schools. We want to be that centerpiece like churches used to be. The old downtown church was the centerpiece where kids learned to read…we want to be that. We talked about at a conference I was at that ‘If you are not remarkable, you are invisible.” I think it is very easy to have a church sitting on a corner that is invisible to people that don’t go there. We don’t want to be that church. We want to be the church that the community can’t do without.
Rich – Right. Absolutely. Now anything else you would say to church leaders just before we jump into the lightening round?
Mike – You know what, I think the biggest thing is to ask questions. I think so many times we are afraid to go ask a principle, to go ask a social worker, to go ask a mayor or police chief, ‘Tell me what our community needs.’ I think it’s a fear of what they may or may not say. I think they are waiting to be asked. I believe they are waiting on someone to say, ‘Hey we care about you and we want to make this the best community in the world to live in, so how can we help you?’ I think that’s part of our role as churches.
Rich – Absolutely. Well part of what I love about what you are doing, is you’re taking an active role in the community, but you aren’t taking it from a culture war warrior ‘Hey you are wrong, we’re right.’ But you are taking it from, ‘How can we work together?’ We did a community service, well we do a bunch of community service stuff at our church and last fall, one of our campus pastors….we charged all of our campus pastors to go to their mayors in their towns and say similar kind of deal, ‘We have X number of hours in volunteer labor. We’d love to use whatever you think you would like us to use it for. Whatever you think, we will do.’ And this one mayor in particular was blown away. He was like, ‘What’s the catch?’
Mike – Exactly.
Rich – ‘No catch at all. We love this community. We love being here. We want to be a part of that.’ The interesting thing about that, is that mayor, doesn’t know the Lord as far as we can tell. That mayor personally wrote a $1000 check to our church.
Mike – Wow!
Rich – And for somebody who’s outside the church, that’s a significant, incredible amount of money to say I just want to support your church. He’s never been there. Now subsequently he has, but up until that point had never been to our church. I credit our campus pastor for doing a great job navigating that relationship, our volunteers for coming through and delivering on a great experience. So hopefully today this has been encouraging and moving churches to think a little differently.