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Megachurch World: How Large-Church Models Can Help Leaders Dream Big

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In our Megachurch World series, we take a close look at large churches around the world that are successfully and systematically reaching people with the gospel.

One of the biggest untold stories from sizable churches is the positive influence they can have on those they train and send out. The larger the church, the more likely its staff is to be developed from within the membership. If those people have a positive experience in a large growing church, they tend to approach subsequent churches with a different perspective.

Such is the case of Dominic De Souza, whose parents were members at Kensington Temple, a church of several thousand in London, England.

“I grew up there,” he says. “My mum was a core volunteer and so five services on a Sunday were my ‘normal.’ The church’s exciting and audacious vision to make a genuine and positive difference for Jesus across our world was a huge part of my life, and not surprisingly shaped my philosophy of ministry.” As a young adult, he came on staff there in youth ministry and eventually became the church’s director of training.

Dominic’s wife, Catherine, was also shaped by a large visionary church, London’s Holy Trinity Brompton, where she served as a departmental leader for Alpha International. The Alpha Course is an introduction to Christianity pioneered by the church’s current vicar Nicky Gumbel. It’s an evangelistic approach that 27 million people in 169 countries have experienced.

“When you’re in environments like that, you’re not afraid to dream,” says Dominic. That’s what happened in 2009 when Dominic went to a town north of London to take on a church that, like Kensington Temple, is part of the Elim denomination. “Though a small town, we were able to dream bigger and raise people’s expectations of what their church could be and do, something I owe in large part to my time at Kensington Temple and particularly the vision of the senior pastor, Colin Dye,” says Dominic. Six years later, the church had grown to around 400 people.

Reaching Out in Places With No Christian Memory

Today, Dominic and Catherine are the recently installed leaders at a church in Norwich that had been independent, but agreed as part of calling Dominic to be their pastor to become part of the Elim denomination and to relocate from the outskirts of the city into a more central location. Norwich is the most atheistic city in Great Britain, according to the 2011 National Census.

“We are going to see that turned on its head because God is up to something here,” Dominic says. “We want to see a people who are so filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of God that God literally spills out of us into every stream and sector of society—into business, the media, education, politics and more—so much so that it affects cultural change.”

Dominic believes one of his biggest challenges in Norwich is speaking to a culture that some people call post-Christian. His sense is that the cultural reality is no longer one where Judeo-Christian values can be taken for granted.

“Previous generations understood what Christianity was, even if they chose to reject it,” he explains. “Now many people don’t even understand the basics of Christianity. Some call it post-Christian, but I tend to think of it as pre-Christian. I’m choosing to see this as an opportunity—our generation is still to discover what authentic Christianity is.”

What They Took From Their Megachurch Experiences

Dominic’s understanding of the Bible’s emphasis on the priesthood of all believers comes from his time overseeing various training initiatives at Kensington Temple.

“Every person in the church is viewed as a potential leader—a missionary or potential missionary just needing to be activated,” he explains. The training was designed to give them the skills and knowledge needed to use their passions to honor God, from the media or arts to the business sector to all other spheres of influence. “It was hammered into me that there is no superstar leader,” says Dominic. “God’s people are not spectators!”

He carries this view into his pastoring, seeing his most important task as senior pastor as that of people development—making and maturing disciples and equipping and mobilizing them for ministry. Dominic says, “I often say to our congregation, ‘I’m not the only full-time minister here. You each have your own pulpit. What are you going to do with this sermon this time tomorrow?’”

This causes him to approach each assignment with big expectations of what a church can do. “The church is not weak and powerless—the church can set the bar,” says Dominic. “We saw that happen at Kensington Temple and Holy Trinity Brompton. Our experiences there gave us the vision and the tools to do the same here.”

Trusting God for a Great Harvest

Dominic and Catherine’s approach in Norwich is to take the best of what’s there and build on it. “With the new location on the horizon and having to build a new team and new infrastructure, we’re very much going into this with the mentality of a church plant,” he says.

But it’s not a shift to a blank slate. It’s a pathway to a dream that he’s seen materialize elsewhere. “To transform the nation, you need to transform the cities,” he says. “I saw a great picture of a multigenerational, multicultural, influential church at Kensington Temple, and those values have become part of my DNA.”

Warren Bird, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is research director for Leadership Network and author or co-author of 27 books for church leaders. Bird oversees Leadership Network’s list of global megachurches at LeadNet.org/world.

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