An Interview with Pastor Mark Carter, Torch of Faith Church
Casting vision in a church can be difficult. And let's face it, as a pastor or church leader, you face difficult decisions and conversations almost on a daily basis. It's part of ministry; it just gets messy sometimes. When circumstances reach their peak and you're called to be the leader that communicates empathetically yet firmly, it can be a daunting task.
Mark Carter, Lead Pastor of Torch of Faith Church found himself in just this situation.
Mark's church – Torch Church – was a younger congregation that was healthy and an appealing place for young families but they were faced with a challenge: they didn't have a church home. He says the “nomadic” lifestyle for the church became tiresome after 6 years of meeting in theaters, schools, etc.
Their neighbor church – Faith Church – was a congregation with an older demographic and was facing the retirement of their Senior Pastor and less than a year left until they would have to close their doors due to financial hardship.
What began as an idea that he says was admittedly laughable turned into a reality: a church merge.
As you can imagine, two different congregations that had different experiences and different perspective presented a challenging context for a merge. While he's the first to tell you there are things he would have done differently, Carter identifies 2 principles that helped him build unity around the idea of the merge and eventually gain the support of 90% of each congregation.
1. Simplify Your Message
In what was a wise move by Carter and the two elder boards involved, Torch of Faith (as it's now called) began a “re-brand” once the merge became official. This did two things for their church: 1) It helped unite people around a common vision and 2) It helped the church center everything they were doing around a common purpose – “unchurched Charlie.”
This was simply Carter's way of helping himself and his congregation visualize the person outside of their church and learn to communicate who they are what they're about for the person who has no prior exposure.
If we're honest, churches may be among the worst at creating an insider's' lingo that becomes confusing to someone who may be visiting or wanting to investigate further.
It's what has been called the curse of knowledge by Lee Lefever in his book The Art of Explanation. It means simply that when we understand something well, we slowly lose the ability to explain it in a way that is simple and easy for someone else to understand.
Carter says that they spent time on Sunday mornings empathizing with the fact that a new church felt weird in some ways and that there were new people and systems to get familiar with. He used this opportunity to cast a vision for how this new merge could reach even more people through the strengths each prior congregation brought.
By catering everything they did to “unchurched Charlie” and his family, Torch of Faith Church simplified their message and united around a common purpose.
2. Invest in the Right People
The second thing Carter and his team did was make sure to invest in the right people. He admits that he spent probably too much time trying to convince people who would probably not buy-in anyway, and should have spent more time with people who were bought-in or on the fence about the merge.
In retrospect, he says, the first thing they did well was to unite the two elder boards together regularly to pray, discern if and when the merge should happen, and then work on the details and get everyone on the same page.
Secondly, since the church has merged, they spend time once every 2 months heavily investing in key leaders in their church to re-cast the vision of what they're about and talk about their core values.
This means that sometimes a new vision means moving forward with most of the same people while losing some. However, Carter reiterates multiple times that the end goal is discerning God's vision for their church and following that.
Finally, Carter emphasizes the importance of relationships. “Everything tends to go better when there is a context of relationship,” he says.