By Chris Moon
New things inevitably generate questions.
“What is it?” “Why this?” “Why now?” And “why not this other thing?”
It’s been no different for the organizers of Spire Network, a digital platform that has set its sights on uniting and equipping pastors within the independent Christian churches and churches of Christ. The network has been working toward its first conference—set for October 8 to 10 in Orlando—and preparing to roll out its online networking platform this fall.
In the middle of all of that, organizers are fielding questions about the nature of Spire and what it hopes to accomplish in the upcoming months and years.
“I spend more time explaining what we aren’t than what we are,” Spire CEO Rick Rusaw told Christian Standard.
Not Just a Conference
One of Spire’s challenges has been that its annual conference will replace the North American Christian Convention and that gathering’s nine-decade history. Rusaw calls the NACC “a legacy event.”
Questioners often assume Spire is merely an annual conference they are being asked to attend, said Rusaw, who took the reins of Spire after a long run as pastor of LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.
But Spire is aimed at connecting pastors throughout the year via its digital platform, which will allow people to build relationships, collaborate on best practices throughout the movement, and share content with each other.
The platform also will provide key data for ministers and allow them to find mentors and in-person connecting points with other pastors in their area.
“The whole platform is a substantive way we can take advantage of technology that wasn’t available 10 years ago,” Rusaw said.
The platform will launch at the Spire Conference in October.
“When you get a chance to really peel away and look at what’s coming and what’s available, I think people do get a sense of that,” Rusaw said.
A Focus on Leaders
The genesis of Spire Network occurred as pastors and church leaders held formal and informal discussions about how best to further the Restoration Movement and its ideals.
Some questioned whether the North American Christian Convention was the best way to train and equip pastors. There was a desire to invest in the lives of church leaders—even beyond what the NACC was able to do.
“It is a narrowing of focus to help healthy churches grow,” said Nate Ross, Spire’s codirector of events and pastor of Northside Christian Church in New Albany, Indiana.
Spire leaders cite a study by Barna Research and Pepperdine University showing 50 percent of church leaders drop out of ministry within five years of starting, 80 percent believe ministry has negatively impacted their family, 70 percent have lower self-esteem than when they entered ministry, and 70 percent do not have a close friend.
Ross recently had a conversation with an executive pastor about the move away from the North American Christian Convention plus Spire Network’s planned emphasis on equipping pastors. After sharing some of those statistics, Ross said, the pastor agreed that the change made sense.
“It’s fair for everyone to ask why,” Ross said.
The Spire Network pictures church leaders as the “spires” of the Restoration Movement. At one time, people looked for the spires on church buildings in their quest to draw closer to God. Today, people look to leaders as those “spires”—as avenues to deeper connection with God.
But, Spire leaders say, pastors too often are isolated, and they lose out on the benefits that can be found in learning from one another. Rusaw says he has numerous pastor friends he connects with on a regular basis, and many of those relationships have lasted more than a decade.
But not all ministry leaders have such a network.
“I want to make that available to all of us out there because leadership is a lonely thing,” he said.
Collaborations and Conversations
One of the hallmark elements of the upcoming conference will be how pastors connect with each other.
It won’t consist merely of speakers sharing information from a stage. Instead, pastors will collaborate with one another by gathering together based on affinities such as church size, geographic location, and ministry interests.
Youth pastors will be able to collaborate and build relationships with other youth pastors. The same will be true for those in other ministry disciplines, such as worship leaders.
Ross, who is helping organize this year’s Spire Conference, said one breakout session will be designed for executive pastors. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss 10 of the most significant issues facing their ministries right now.
“What we really believe—just the power of Spire—is that we don’t need another conference,” Ross said. “We need the right conversation.”
And the relationships built at the conference can be extended throughout the year through Spire’s online networking platform. Rusaw said conference attendees can walk away with phone numbers and email addresses of others in their area of ministry.
“Then the conversation goes beyond, ‘Hey, see you next year,’” he said.
Chris Jefferson, director of marketing and development for Spire, said conference attendees will get a first look at Spire’s digital platform and can begin to use it.
The platform has been under construction for almost a year. The organization’s board of directors got a first look at it this spring. It will include podcasts, webinars, and information about regional “meet-ups” of pastors throughout the year.
Much of the content will be free to access by anyone who signs up. Some areas will require a subscription.
“It’s a great way to be part of a community,” Jefferson said. “I think we have a great opportunity to see the church advance in an extremely important and tangible way.”
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.