“My Church is a Franchise, and I Proudly Serve as the Owner/Operator”

Orginally published on Tuesday, September 04, 2007 at 5:04 AM
by Todd Rhoades

Here's part of a very interesting article about Cumberland Church... You can go to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, or McDonald's for a Big Mac, but if you're looking for salvation, you might want to try Cumberland Church on Franklin Road. It's a franchise, so you're not going to see anything strange on the menu. And that's the way the church likes it. Last year, Eddie Johnson came to Franklin to open the new church, but he didn't intend to struggle like a new, independent business owner. He wanted his church to offer the same familiarity people get from a restaurant chain, so he partnered with North Point Community Church, an Atlanta-based mega-church. "Just like Chick-fil-A, my church is a 'franchise,' and I proudly serve as the local owner/operator," he wrote recently on his blog, www.videochurchblog.com.

The larger church provides the brand name, and eight months later, people familiar with that brand are finding their way to Cumberland Church services. Some have relocated from Atlanta, so they know what to expect.

But it’s not happening just in Franklin. North Point-branded churches are opening across the country.

“North Point is looking to plant 60 new churches by 2010,” Johnson said. “That seems to be the trend. These large churches — I hate to use the phrase — are franchising. They have a brand. That’s why we’ve been able to grow so quickly. It’s the brand with North Point.”

This franchise approach is gaining popularity in the non-denominational community. Just as McDonald’s and Starbucks have flooded the American consumer market, these churches are looking to do the same for the spiritual market.

For the last four years, an organization called Stadia has helped start about 100 non-denominational churches in North America. Bob Harrington, pastor of the Franklin-based Harpeth Community Church, works part-time as a consultant for Stadia, and he said their plan is to keep opening churches wherever there’s a need.

“We don’t push numbers, but at times we’ve hoped and prayed we can plant 5,000 churches in the next 25 years,” he said. “The churches we plant, they’re just trying to take the Bible to people in ways that people can relate to what it teaches and help them be better people. And unless you’re an ardent atheist, you’ve got to believe that’s a good thing.”

The planting trend also is visible locally. According to phone book records, the number of non-denominational churches in Williamson County has grown from about five in 1997 to more than 20 today. Many of these churches, like Spring Hill’s WellSpring Christian Church, meet in local schools and cater to those who don’t normally attend church.

You can read more here in the Tennessean...

Many people will cringe at using the word “franchise” with church.  What are your feelings on this type of approach to rapid church planting?

This post has been viewed 2592 times so far.

  There are 12 Comments:

  • Posted by Marc Backes


    Couple of interesting things to consider here.  1) Definite advantages to adopting someone else’s model as opposed to developing your own.  You really aren’t a church planter at that point.  Just more of a district manager.

    2) It’s interesting that progressive churches who lean on “incarnational” approaches so much rather than traditional methodologies are adoping a framework that makes “genuine” incarnational approaches to ministry impossible.  If people think that Buckhead’s surrounding culture is the same as Franklin, TN’s surrounding culture then I think that they’re being very disingenious.

    3) In the long run, is the model sustainable.  And as the model plays out, are you muting the next generation of speakers / preachers that might have come along otherwise.

    4) What happens when Andy Stanley retires or dies?  Now, not only is Northpoint having to worry about how it’s home membership will respond to calling a new teaching pastor, but now “hundreds” of satellites have dog in the fight and the potential for ugliness there is very great.

    I can understand in the short run why it’s attractive but the long term issues are great

  • Posted by Eric Joppa

    I agree Marc, at least on some of what you are saying.

    Franklin and Buckhead are very different. As for the next gen speakers...is NP putting Stanley on screen the same as Buckhead? Or did they just plant a church?

    Just currious…

  • Posted by Marc Backes

    He wanted his church to offer the same familiarity people get from a restaurant chain, so he partnered with North Point Community Church, an Atlanta-based mega-church. “Just like Chick-fil-A, my church is a ‘franchise,’ and I proudly serve as the local owner/operator,”

    Based on that comment, I don’t think he planted a church.  I think he opened a NorthPoint Campus.  From his own comments, it seems like he has completely ceded the direction and vision of his church to Andy Stanley and NP.  Therefore, he will have no voice (essentially) at his church.  And when something goes wrong in the teaching or NorthPoint changes directions and he doesn’t want to follow, what does he do then?

    Who ultimately has authortity?  The local owner/operator or NP?  And here’s my question?  Where does ultimate accountability lie?  If you’re going to partner with NP and use their brand, don’t they have the right to determine your direction?  And what happens if the day comes you don’t like the NP brand and want to move another direction, it seems as though that makes for a very rough transition.

    I’ve seen all the arguments about this from every angle but very few address the “practicalities” of the structure...I think that it presents challenges that perhaps have not been thought of…

    Also, for the record.  A restaraunt chain and the church are two totally different things..

  • Posted by Milton Stanley

    “Owner/operator”? Man, that’s ate up.

  • Posted by Eddie Johnson

    Just want to say a big thanks to Todd and MMI for mentioning us and inviting us into the discussion.  As you might imagine, I really do enjoying talking about North Point, “video church” and in particular, church planting. 

    To answer some of the questions and add to the seemingly one-sided discussion so far (smile), I thought I would weigh in to further the dialog. Here are a couple thoughts to help clarify a little about North Point and what we’re doing at Cumberland Church in Franklin, TN:

    - We’re an autonomous church and not a campus like Buckhead Church. Cumberland Church is a strategic partner with North Point Ministries. That means that we have the same mission, strategy, values & beliefs as North Point Ministries but are a separate entity (i.e. different budget and elders).  As the Lead Pastor of Cumberland, I lead my staff and our team decides upon the teaching for our own local church.
    - I’ve been to Buckhead Church many times and I’m a good friend with their Campus Director, Jeff Henderson.  But our church is not Buckhead Church.  Buckhead Church is 67% single and the average age is 24.  My church is 70% families and our average age is 31.  We’re in trouble if we try to do everything Buckhead Church is doing. 
    - Jeff would be the first to tell you, and I agree, that my job as Lead Pastor is to be a cultural architect for my community.  While all North Point campuses and strategic partnerships follow the same model of ministry…our environments may have different flavors and feels to them, varying according to the culture in which we live (i.e. our music, outreach to the community and communication styles).  The “skeleton” of our ministry (our model) is the same but the “muscles” (our methods) might vary from city to city.
    - My primary role at Cumberland Church is that of Lead Pastor but I can (smile), and do teach, in a secondary role.  We’re not 100% video.
    - Video is a tool but not our trophy.  We’ve just found it is effective but it’s not what we promote nor what we believe makes us successful.  We believe that our model and focus of ministry is. 
    - I would have to politely disagree with you Marc that this model of ministry will not continue to thrive and work.  We believe it’s the future.  In fact, I was just in Atlanta last week and heard Andy Stanley himself lay out a plan for North Point to help start 45 new church plants following the North Point model over the next 3 ½ years.  I guess you could say we’re “betting the farm” on the fact it WILL continue to work.

    If anyone is interested to learn more about what we do, I would encourage you guys to check-out this site from North Point that answers a lot the questions that you may have.  It may be very helpful to the discussion. http://northpointpartners.org/faqs.jsp

    Thanks guys!  Look forward to continuing the dialog.


  • Posted by Marc Backes


    You answered several questions here and thank you for the respectful response.

    I’ve been in a similar situation with Upward where we had a model of ministry that we believed worked and did all we could to partner with churches all around the country to use the Upward model of outreach.  We ran into these same issues?  How do we maintain the “Upward” brand so to speak but yet give the local church autonomy to make the ministry theirs and add their own local flavor to it that is appropriate to their setting?

    So I ask you how are you guys planning on doing that?  Who ultimately controls the direction of Cumberland church?  What do you do if the NP model of ministry becomes ineffective (I know you’ll say it won’t) but I’m curious if it did, what would you and your elders do.

    And now the million dollar question...why don’t you just preach instead of playing Andy on the video.  To plant a church and be a cultural architect, you have to be a good communicator.  Why not invest yourself as the lead teacher?  Why go with a video?

    I really want to continue this conversation...perhaps offline via phone…

    I’m not a multi-site basher, nor a hater of video sites...my hesitations are greater on the operational / framework / strategic side than they are on the theological side...but I’m curious to talk with someone who is actually doing this to ask the questions of…

    Look forward to the feedback…

  • Posted by

    Actually, I’m kinda hoping y’all continue the discussion here. Some of us want to “overhear” it.

  • Posted by

    At first glance - and I realize there’s a whole lot of detail missing - this strikes me as not being so radical at all.  The church is “autonomous.” The pastor is actually the pastor.  And the church raises/spends money at its discretion.  There is simply a strong and intentionally publicized connection to a recognizable religious organization which enables people to have a basic idea of they’re all about.

    Wait a minute…

    Isn’t that a denomination?


  • Posted by Eddie Johnson

    Okay, I had this really creative idea to explain all of this more… and then Mark A. stole all my thunder!!  Thanks Mark.  You made my big point! (smile)

    Well, since Peter asked I will respond to Marc’s questions here for the benefit of the discussion.  Okay, this may be a little long so forgive me, but here I go…

    Marc… while I’m a BIG fan of Upward Ministries (great stuff!) and what they do to reach parents and kids, I’m not sure how to make the comparison to what we do as a local church to your former/current(?) organization.  I really would feel unqualified to comment on Upward’s branding and local contextualization of ministry.  Sorry I’m not more help there to speak directly to that.

    However, I can share this.  You see our “franchise”, or better described as the North Point ministry model, is a total-package church model and not just a “program”.  (I hope that phrase doesn’t offend, none intended).  Every one of our ministry environments are specifically created and designed to help people take a next step from “the foyer, to the living room and to the kitchen”.  Meaning, our “win” is to get people in the front door (foyer) and move them into medium-sized groups (living room) and ultimately into community with a small group (kitchen).  We believe that is where life-change has the best chance to happen…. life on life.  So everything, and I mean everything, we do is geared towards helping people take that next, easy, obvious and strategic next step.  Upward’s franchise calls on them to partner with ALL kinds of church models.  Their program must “compete” for the attention and focus of that individual church.  I would imagine, and I don’t know this for sure, that the churches where Upward is being implemented is a program choice among many other family and children’s programs at that church.  That’s a tough sell.  This scenario is one of the main reasons I decided to join the North Point team.  Having worked at a couple different mega-churches that did a “smorgasbord” program ministry model that created a lot of sideways-energy and expensive budgets with limited success, I vowed to find something more effective and strategic to help lead people towards more significant and sustaining life-change.  In Andy’s book, The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry (which is our “training manual”), this practice is called “think steps not programs”.  Check it out if you get a chance. 

    Our local leadership?  The North Point model is a staff-led model.  We describe our church leadership model by this phrase:  “elder guarded, staff guided and membership gifted”.  I, as the Lead Pastor, am an elder but not THE elder.  My job is to lead the staff, not the elders, North Point, North Point’s elders or my congregation.  I seek advice and counsel from North Point but ultimately they trust and expect me to lead my team and this church.  They hold me accountable but I don’t work for them.

    What if the North Point model becomes ineffective?  I’m not sure how to really answer that because in my heart and mind I don’t see that happening.  But let’s assume that for some reason, the NP model becomes obsolete.  Pretty simple answer… we find a better one that works.  Period.  Notice I said the word “we”.  The beauty of our team is that we are learning how to plant churches, transport our model of ministry and “tweak it” together.  I’m in a perpetual learning lab consisting of 15 North Point church plants and 3 campuses.  That’s an awesome think-tank going on.  I think together we’ll keep making a better “mouse trap”.  Think about this, if something happens to Andy, God forbid… then all we have to replace is a communicator, not a whole model of ministry.  While replacing Andy Stanley is certainly no easy task, I would rather take that than having to find another visionary leader to create a whole new model and style for us to follow.  I would kindly argue our church will be able to make the transition easier than any other church when they lose their visionary, teaching pastor.  We only have lost 1 key element, not 2.  I think a change of leadership at ANY church is hard and difficult, but I think Andy and the Leadership Team is actively addressing the problem.

    For instance, Andy is reducing his teaching to 36 weekends per year to help raise up new communicators.  If you go to North Point’s Media Library you will notice that transition.  Buckhead’s Jeff Henderson is a great example of a new communicator that is coming on the scene because of this change.  Jeff is a GREAT communicator.  Also Andy just wrote a book called “Communicating for Change” that came about because he wants to teach others how to effectively teach and communicate.  He’s trying to reproduce himself.  With Andy limiting himself to 36 weekends, by design other communicators are going to have to develop and be used. 

    Why don’t you teach more Eddie?  Great question.  The short answer is, I love to teach.  In fact, I did a lot of it when I was the Young Adults Pastor at Southeast Christian and leading Watermarke Church.  But…. if you have ever planted a church (and I have 3 now, 2 with North Point) then you will understand and appreciate why I have chosen to not teach all the time. Truthfully, I just really don’t know how I or any other church planter survives the early years of trying to launch a new church. We’re asked to teach, lead our staffs, raise money, mow our lawns, have a quality quiet time, love our wife, meet with new people visiting our churches, spend quality time with our kids, raise up leaders, lead a small group (or two), do a little marriage counseling and everything else that doesn’t get done that we have to end up doing ourselves.  I did it once with my first church plant and it about killed me.  Man, I don’t miss any of that at all.  Our model of ministry has given me my family life back.  I would rather be teaching from my passion and study than cramming every week to make something happen because it’s Sunday again.  There is a BIG difference. 

    Also, I would add that I’m learning a TON right now by watching and learning from Andy.  I’ve learned more about teaching from him in the past two years than I ever-learned in seminary or doing it myself.  I think I’m becoming a better communicator by becoming more of a student right now.  I’m soaking up everything I can from watching Andy teach every week.  He’s a master communicator and there is a “method” to what he does.  Hope that makes sense. 

    The last reason I teach less right now is (and I’m going to get a little emotional here, sorry)…but two years ago, my son Keegan was diagnosed with autism.  It rocked my wife and our family to its core.  We first mourned the news and then we became VERY proactive in finding help for him to recover.  God is teaching me through Keegan that m first ministry is my family, not my church.  If not for the North Point family and this model of ministry, I guarantee you I would be out of ministry and back in the marketplace.  You all might not like, agree with or understand what I do as a ministry, but I for one am grateful for the opportunity I have to serve Christ full-time in ANY capacity.  North Point has given me a place to use my gifts of leadership and encouragement.  I for one will always be eternally grateful for this model and for their belief in me that I can be used to lead one of their churches. 

    That’s my story.

    Let’s talk.  What do you think?

  • Posted by Marc Backes


    Absolutely no problem with going long at all.  Your response was great.  I’m encouraged by the fact that we can have a dialogue about the topic and it hasn’t descended into “stupidville”.

    I want to interact with your response as I really am impressed by it.  Regarding the “apples to oranges” comparison of NP vs. Upward, obviously one is a program and one is a philosophy of local churc ministry.  You were very correct in sensing the two didn’t match up.  I merely wanted to illustrate that even para-churches face the dilemma of “promoting” a model and then placing the autonomy of carrying out that model in the hands of a local church that really has not “concrete” accountability to the provider of the model.  I don’t feel like I’m communicating that correctly, so I hope it makes sense. 

    Next, I want so give a big “diddo” on the philosophy “thinks steps not programs”.  That’s why I’m in process with Acts 29 as a church planter because I don’t believe post-modern culture is going to be reached effectively by having the next greatest program to be developed by a national para-church ministry.  Before my resignation from Upward in June, this was something God was absolutely all over me about.  So it seems that we are thinking along the same lines as philosophy of ministry.  We may have different theological takes, but from a philosophy of providing more holistic, entire person, less compartmentalized spiritual formation, I think we are on the same page.

    Regarding elders, once again, I think we are on the same page.  The lead planter is AN elder, but not THE elder, and you answered my questions about the autonomy of your local church.  My biggest concern was what level of “control” or “authority” NP had over your local church.  It seems that it is not out of line or any different than if the SBC, another denomination, or mothering church were to start a new work.

    You said exactly what I thought you would regarding the “validity” of the NP model.  But as always, it the model breaks, you work to fix it.  My only hesitation is the extent to which you “co-brand” externally with NP.  Right wrong or indifferent, the degree to which you are externally co-branded with somone else, is the degree to which you share their destiny.  However, with that said, I have that same problem by linking and aligning with Acts29.  You cross those bridges as you come to them.

    My concerns about Andy getting hit by a bus were along the lines of having “Andyites” at your church as opposed to people who were truly committed to being a valuable member and part of the Cumberland community.  And I think video has a propensity to build “groupies”.  Granted, local pastors have “groupies” as well so I understand that, but if you are the local shepherd, then they need to see, be fed, be led, and be protected by you, not Andy Stanley.  Now, can you accomplish that by being the main teacher in all the other teaching opportunities that a new church plant demands.  Probably and I’m anxious to find out.  As with anything new, I don’t think the verdict on video preaching to remote locations can be delivered yet.  We just haven’t had enough time and experience to know what all the ramifications will be.

    Lastly, and I don’t expect this will be the end of our dialogue (at least I hope not), I want to both applaud you and thank you for your transparency and openness about why you’ve chosen to go this route with Cumberland.  I do not sense a half-hearted decision or a flippant laziness that resulted in this decision.  You’re words are very wise and are echoed by the likes of Stetzer, Driscoll, et all that talk about the rigors and demands of church planting.  Unless you have planted a church, you cannot understand (therefore cannot pass judgement) on the planter.  You can encourage him, pray for him, support him, and exhort him, but you cannot judge him (at least not in good conscience).  Truer words could not be spoken about your family being your ministry and not the church.

    I was in that boat for five years where the mission trumped my family.  It was a horrible mistake and one I have vowed never to make again.  Given the diagnosis of your son, time and devotion to your family become of even more importance.  And that’s what is refreshing about this interaction is to see that folks are truly measuring and thinking through what it is they are doing.  I think sometimes we lose that.  At the center of these debates are “people” who I believe, and as you have demonstrated, that are trying to what is right in the eyes of God, their family, their church, and their community.  Are the methods perfect?  Probably not?  Could we use different terminology than “franchise” I would like us to because I don’t think you are a franchise.  A “North Point Denominational Plant” maybe, but not a franchise.

    Please forgive me if any of my comments throughout this conversation came across as demeaning, margninalizing, or just plain uncaring.  That was not my intent.  This has been helpful and fruitful…

    Perhaps we can grab some Starbucks (a true franchise) together sometime in the near future…

  • Posted by Micah Foster

    I love the dicussion here. And I love the way God is using this franchise to transform people from the inside-out. It may look like just a strategy, but it’s a streamlined strategy that gets people into life-transforming small groups. God bless!

  • Posted by

    Different denomoninations have different views when it comes to the autominy of the local church. Consider, that some are looking for familiarity in a church. Some will looking for a group of Christ followers while others are looking for social needs to be met. Those looking for Jesus in a social setting are going to find what they are looking for, small country church, mega-church, singles group, cowboy church, outdoor adventures, etc. Perhaps those who look for the cookie cutter Christianity will actually find a relationship with Jesus than a relationship with people who may or may not point a person to Jesus.

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