FAQ About Our Multi-Congregational Structure

January 21, 2016  |  Sean Mortenson

The image above shows the monthly gathering of all Redemption Church pastors who come together for training, vision, support, prayer, and planning.

How did Redemption Church begin?

Redemption Church began in 2011 when three healthy, Phoenix area churches came together believing they could train more leaders, plant more churches and do more effective ministry together than separately.

At the time of merging, East Valley Bible Church (now Redemption Gilbert) was 20 years old of 2,500 people, Praxis Church (now Redemption Tempe and Arcadia) was a 6 year old multi-site church of 1,100 people between the two locations, and Second Mile Church (now Redemption Gateway) was a 2 year old church of 450 people.

At the time of writing (Sept 2013), each of those four congregations has grown numerically, is in a stronger financial position, and is experiencing tremendous health. Additionally, two more Redemption congregations have been planted (Flagstaff and West Mesa, a bi-lingual congregation) and are growing into a place of sustainability and strength.

As a whole, Redemption Church exists to strengthen and birth healthy local congregations. In turn, local congregations develop, empower, and release healthy disciples and leaders.

What does “multi-congregational” mean?

We think the term “multi-congregational” most accurately describes what we’re doing. We are one church with multiple congregations. We are one organization, with one employee ID number, one tax ID number, and one bank account. While united around theology, vision and values, each congregation has a very real opportunity to customize ministry to its particular context with its particular leadership.

Though we are technically “multi-site” (one church/multiple locations), this phrase often brings to mind video multi-site and is, thus, unhelpful in describing what we do. We also avoid the phrase “multi-campus” as it carries many of the same connotations. We will occasionally refer to a Redemption “campus” if we’re talking about the physical location. Otherwise we use the term “congregation.”

How does the leadership structure work?

Each local congregation has a team of elders (staff and non-staff) that shepherd the congregation, oversee its ministry, set its budget, carry out discipline, hire its staff and lead the mission in its community. While these elders care deeply about the overall vision of Redemption Church, their authority and oversight extends only to the congregation they are leading.

There is also a Redemption-wide Leadership Team that oversees the church as a whole and make decisions that impact all congregations. This team consists of the Lead Pastors from each congregation as well as other strategic leaders including the CFO and Communications Pastor.

The Leadership Team is not focused on congregation specific issues (what music to play, how to get more small groups in Tempe, etc.), but is focused on Redemption-wide issues. These include policy, vision, acquiring property, and planting new churches or congregations.

If push came to shove, the Leadership Team would have authority over the congregations. However, the system is designed to not use this authority unless absolutely necessary. In the event of a transition situation for a congregation’s Lead Pastor, the local elders and Leadership Team work closely to determine a succession plan.

Is there a leader of leaders?

Yes. Tyler Johnson is currently the Lead Pastor of Redemption Church. What makes this unique is that Tyler does not lead one of the congregations. Rather, he is a pastor to the pastors, often visiting different congregations, leading the Leadership Team, and forging relationships and partnerships between Redemption and outside organizations. This is only possible because Tyler is humble, trustworthy, and highly relational. He has apostolic gifting that allows other gifted leaders to follow and trust him.

How do finances work?

Each congregation is expected to be self-supporting (obviously, this takes time for new plants).

Each congregation gives 10% to a centralized Outward Focused fund that supports church-planting and community ministry.

Each congregation also pays roughly 10% to Central Operations for accounting, payroll, communication, website, graphics, and facility maintenance services. This percentage could change in the future if the Leadership Team decides that more resources need to be devoted to Central Operations.

The remaining 80% is available for the local congregation to budget and spend as needed. These funds pay for rent, staff salaries, and ministry expenses. In a very real way, this allows those giving at a local congregation to know that every dollar they give is supporting the mission of their local congregation, as even the Outward Focused and Central Ops monies are used to extend and support the ministry of the local congregation.

How does preaching work?

Each congregation has regular live preaching, overseen by the congregation’s Lead Pastor. Most of the time (~45 weeks) each congregation is preaching on the same biblical text or topic. This allows the preachers to study in advance together (we have a weekly Preaching Collective for all preachers) and share resources. It also builds unity across our congregations as everybody is tethered to the same text. When necessary, the Lead Pastor has the freedom to set the scheduled sermon aside and address an issue he deems important.

What holds Redemption Church together?

Redemption Church was possible in the first place by high levels of relationship and trust among the senior leadership. As the church continues to grow and expand, it is held together by three main things:

Covenant Relationship. The bonds of covenant unite the congregations of Redemption Church beyond that of a network. Like a marriage, this bond provides the security of commitment while requiring mutual sacrifice. We are blessed by shared gifts and challenged by shared burdens. We are better together than apart.

Common Culture. The core convictions of our leadership are embodied in a common culture. All congregations submit to this culture, building in harmony with it. All congregations also contribute to it, bringing new life and vibrancy by nature of their participation.

Established Boundaries. These are the elements that all congregations must share. They establish boundaries within which leaders are encouraged to creatively develop programs and practices that meet the needs of their community. These boundaries include doctrine, values, central ministries, unified ministries, and communication standards.

How much unity is there? How much freedom?

These questions have been and continue to be the most challenging part of multi-congregational ministry. There is no set-it and forget-it approach. Based on personality and gifting, some leaders push for more unity and uniformity, while others push for more freedom and individuality. It’s a constant tension to manage and having this diversity of leaders forces us to a healthier place.

Additionally, one of the most confusing aspects early on was for pastors, staff, and volunteers to have clarity on chain-of-command, who had jurisdiction over what, and what ministry efforts were or should have been centralized or decentralized. To address this challenge, we introduced the following categories: Centralized, Unified, and Decentralized.

Centralized = Things done the same way, overseen by a centralized department. Right now, this category includes finance, accounting, HR, facility maintenance, media and communications, pastoral residencies and Outward Focused Ministries.

Unified = Things done the same way, overseen by the local leadership. Right now, this category includes communities (small groups), preaching, membership, classes, elder processes, church discipline, biblical counseling, and benevolence.

Decentralized = Things done in different ways, overseen by local leadership. Right now, many things are decentralized, including guest services, kids, students, worship, assimilation, internships and ministries for men and women.

How does it actually make everyone better?

We don’t have a comprehensive list, but… Lead Pastors are better because they have a team of other men in the same role who are supporting and encouraging them. Staff are better because they have associates at other congregations who are doing similar work. Volunteer leaders and new staff are especially helped by the experience surrounding them in other congregations. Preachers are better because they sharpen each other and share ideas weekly. Members are better because they have more places to invite friends and co-workers who live in other parts of town to attend. Each congregation is strengthened by the overall reputation of Redemption. Church planters are better because they don’t have to reinvent the wheel (especially with admin) and they have the support and strength of a movement behind them. Newer congregations are better because financing is available that wouldn’t be available if they were on their own.

Would all future church plants be Redemption congregations?

No. We originally planned on all potential planters starting Redemption congregations unless we didn’t think they were a good fit for our culture or DNA. However, we now think it makes more sense to plan on each potential planter planting a separate, daughter church. If we sense uncommon fit and it makes sense strategically, then we talk about it being a Redemption congregation.

We have continued to train leaders, including church planters, and to plant churches that are not part of the Redemption organization.