SPOTLIGHT: Manchester Christian Church, Manchester, New Hampshire
SPOTLIGHT: Manchester Christian Church, Manchester, New Hampshire

A Decentralized Approach to Church Growth

By Steve Carr

The church must look different tomorrow than it does today.

This is the conviction of Bo Chancey, lead minister of Manchester Christian Church in New England. It is a fascinating observation, considering Manchester Christian, which now averages about 4,000 weekly, is already the largest Protestant church in New Hampshire, the second most dechurched region in America. Still, the church’s strategy relies upon continual risk-taking and nontraditional approaches to growth. Change is an essential part of Manchester Christian’s DNA.

“Churches always change, because the church is people, and people are constantly changing,” Chancey observed.

Manchester Christian’s focus is to have its members think outwardly. The church continues to promote a Pray for One initiative, which involves encouraging its people to stop at 6:03 a.m. and 6:03 p.m. each day to pray for New Hampshire and for one person they want to see find Jesus (the times for prayer are taken from the state’s area code). And each summer, the church hosts One Day of Community; it partners with the local minor league baseball affiliate to provide each student in the city with a backpack filled with school supplies. It’s a major carnival event—free food, games, and prizes—with the goal of showing compassion to several thousand individuals and families.

Last year the church opened a new campus in the state’s capital. But instead of renting an existing space, Manchester Christian decided to partner with a local school. Concord Christian Academy had begun constructing a new auditorium but did not have the funds to complete it. The congregation raised money to build out the performing arts center and make it fully functional. The church uses the auditorium on Sunday mornings and the school has access to it at all other times.

These examples reflect the church’s willingness to take risks and think outside the box, but this year the church will take an even bolder step. Chancey is leading the church to adopt decentralization, a concept he detailed in a book—Decentralized—released at the beginning of this year. Technology, he notes, has changed how we access information, so church expressions must shift from information dissemination to creating experiences that people can share with others. Chancey cites Manchester Christian’s embrace of online campuses as an example; it is an affordable and effective way to reach people with the gospel.

Another example of decentralization is already reflected in the church’s staffing. People are attending services less frequently, which means fewer programs are required, and thus, smaller church staffs will become the norm. Manchester Christian has only 25 full-time employees, a number far smaller than many churches of similar size. Yet Chancey sees opportunity in this shift, suggesting that “smaller church staffs mean more money for other things, especially foreign missions.”

This thinking is crucial not only for Manchester Christian, but for the American church ministering in a post-Christian culture. Chancey believes the decentralized church will grow fastest in the most irreligious places.

“People who are done with religion are not necessarily done with Jesus,” he said. “Most of them are extremely open to relational connection with Jesus and are eager to experience that connection apart from the trappings of traditional religious expressions.”

Steve Carr is vice president of ministry development with CDF Capital. His thoughts on life and ministry can be found at houseofcarr.com.

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