A Chemistry Conversation with Greg Ligon
Greg Ligon joins Matt Steen for a fascinating Chemistry Conversation about the future of the church. Is digital here to stay? Are house churches on the rise? What about church mergers? Greg Ligon shares what he sees on the horizon and how churches can seize the opportunity that this change is providing.
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Matt Steen, Chemistry Staffing & Greg Ligon, Generis
Transcription Completed: December 13, 2020
Audio Length: 10:21 minutes
Matt Steen: Well hey, it's Matt Steen again, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Today I'm excited Greg Ligon is joining me. Greg is a member of the Effective Ministry Team in Generis, and he is also co-author of a book called Multisite Reimagined. So he and Geoff Surratt wrote the book, talking through some of the changes that are going on here multisite-wise. Greg, 2020 has just kind of been a normal year for everybody, multisite as well. Talk to me a little bit about what caused you guys to write this, and then let's talk a little bit about what you guys are seeing as far as the multisite landscape goes in a post-apocalypse world.
Greg Ligon: Sure, you got it. Thanks, Matt. It's great to be with you today and talk a little bit about this. Back in March when the world changed, actually March 10-12, I was in Atlanta, Georgia with a group of young, senior pastors of some growing churches. We'd actually spent about a half day together. We were at dinner on that Tuesday evening, March 10th, and one of the guys looked up from his phone after having received a notification. He said, "Oh no." I said, "What's going on?" He said, "They just announced that there will be no crowds at March Madness." Which for those of us that are basketball fans, it was like the beginning of the end. Little did we know, by the time we gathered the next morning, we would be at pandemic status and these guys would be thinking about how in the world they were going to have a church service on Sunday five days later. So we moved from scenario planning to reality TV. Literally in 48 hours, these guys, half of them probably didn't have anything in place outside of maybe a streaming of the worship experience or probably even more that it was at best a recording posted a day or two after the service. And were able to make the pivot and stand up an online campus. And so on the 15th when the church moved from being a multisite and one campus to being a multisite church in people's homes, they were ready. So it's just been a whirlwind since then.
Matt Steen: And so over the ensuing months, you guys have kind of put your heads together and been watching and seeing what's been going on. What are you learning?
Greg Ligon: Yeah, so it's been really interesting. One of the things that of course happened immediately, because of the fact that everybody had to go online, there was a lot of innovation that happened in terms of what was happening online. Probably three weeks before, I had been at a meeting with some Generis colleagues, and we were talking about multisite, and we were talking about some of the challenges particularly around family ministry and student ministry and groups ministry. And kind of the conclusion at that point in time was there were a handful of people that were doing it, but most people had tried it and in person was working just fine thank you very much, and so the return on the investment or the difficulty factor just kind of hadn't put it on the table. They'd set it aside, but then all of the sudden they had to, right? And there was no other choice. So we saw a lot of incredible innovation early on in terms of group ministry and teams and students and even the online worship experience was, I think, vastly improved. It was a lot of great stuff that happened, and then about eight weeks in there began to be rumors that we might be able to go back live. And all of the sudden, the energy - and many cases, unfortunately, the resources and attention - moved from the online back into the live experience. Anyway, that's part of the reality that I think we're living in right now. That's going to disappointment to me because I think that the reality is that digital is here to stay. It does not mean that we won't have live experiences, we will. But it does mean that there will always be a digital component and an online component of what it means to be the church in this next season. We really have to figure that out. It's really important. I think now as we're kind of going through another wave of outbreaks and cases. I was on a call yesterday with some churches, they had to close again. So I think we'll probably see some new energy back toward figuring some of this out.
Matt Steen: I hope so, and I saw some of that same dip, you know, some of the work that we've been doing even in this season has just been saying to churches, "Hey, you need to pick a lane, and you need to run after it and figure out who you're going to be digitally and just keep going." Because it is, it's here to stay, right? It's not changing.
Greg Ligon: Right, exactly. And Geoff Surratt and I, you mentioned earlier - I love that you called him "Greg," and his brother Greg loves that you call him Greg because Greg -
Matt Steen: I'm not going to live that one down am I?
Greg Ligon: But we've worked together for years. So as we kind of begin to compare notes again in this season, we just began to say, okay, there are some things that are happening, some of which had already started to happen pre-pandemic but certainly have been accelerated as a result of this. Of course, the online piece we've already talked about. Some other things I think that we're seeing happening are kind of a reintroduction of venues, and that's partly driven by the fact that churches are looking at their existing facilities and looking for ways to reconfigure spaces that will allow them to have multiple places to gather people for worship. So if they're limited to a certain number of people in a space, then they have multiple spaces to be able to do that. And so they're able to accommodate more people. So we see kind of a resurgence of the venue model. Also the micro, house church model, whatever you want to call it. There's been a variety of runs at that through the years. We're beginning to hear the word "micro" probably most recently in the last 3-5 years. There's a whole lot of that happening now, and it's certainly been accelerated. A lot of churches have moved their groups model and said now we're having these house churches. 12Stone Church in Atlanta now has a thing called 12Stone Home where they're actually creating a worship experience that's really kind of a house church experience because you can gather with your group and you have worship and community and all the things that are a part of what makes a church a church, right. So the micro piece. And mergers. Mergers have been an important part of multisite story for a long time. Five years ago, the last research that was done, it was one in three campuses that will result in a merger. About 18 months ago, that research was updated and it was 40%. And Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird have just recently released their book Better Together, kind of a second, an updated version. And I think the statistic they use is that it's either 78% or 82%, somewhere in the 80% range of churches that have done mergers had a very positive experience with it and will continue to do more. So we're at a season where some of the experts are projecting we may lose as many as 20% of our churches just from an economic side of things. So I'm very hopeful and Jeff and I are very hopeful that this will be a place where some churches that are financially healthy and have some bandwidth and margin will be able to step in and regain some of these ministries. Anyways, it's exciting stuff that's happened.
Matt Steen: So let me ask you these, and then we can start of wrap up because I want to honor your time in this. We're talking now, it's mid-December, and 2021 is coming. What do you see on the horizon in 2021? What's the one thing that you see kind of sitting out there when it comes to multisite and the way we do churches like this that 18 months ago nobody saw coming? What would be that thing that would surprise us?
Greg Ligon: Yeah, I think the big opportunity here is really to seize the opportunity that this is providing. We went from a season where there was questions about whether or not multisite is effective as a strategy. There are even conversations if it's even theologically appropriate. But I think the reality is, we're in this season, we're seeing it can work and there are new opportunities. There are people that are showing up at your church online that have not and will not show up at your church in person. And there are great stories of lives that have been changed for Christ as a result of that. So I think the thing that I really, if I have to encourage pastors and leaders and churches to lean into one thing, it's to lean into what's this online thing going to look like. Again, we're going to be back live. The greatest percentage I've heard so far was 60%. It's really more in the 20-40% range is where I hear most of us will be back live. But as we're walking through this season, let's learn from it and let's figure out what are the things that we can do to be more effective as a church and reaching the communities we're a part of and much beyond that.
Matt Steen: That's a good word. Learn from what we've needed to do, and let's take the best from it and put it to work. That's great. Greg, thank you so much. If we wanted to kind of learn more about you and how you serve with churches, where do we find you?
Greg Ligon: Yeah, there's a couple of places. Particularly with the multisite stuff, you can go to generis.com/multisite-reimagined. I think Matt said that will be placed in the show notes, but again that's generis.com/multisite-reimagined. You can also find me at generis.com/gregligon and also at ligongroup.com.
Matt Steen: Great. Well we will definitely put that down below and link off to the book. Thank you so much, Greg. Really appreciate the work that you're doing for the kingdom, and thank you so much for taking some time with me today.
Greg Ligon: You bet, likewise Matt, appreciate the opportunity.