How to Think Strategically (and Spiritually) About Church Expansion: An Aspen Podcast with Thrive Christian Church Blog Feature
Marian V. Liautaud

By: Marian V. Liautaud on October 03, 2017

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How to Think Strategically (and Spiritually) About Church Expansion: An Aspen Podcast with Thrive Christian Church

Culture | Leadership | Multisite | church facilities | church planting | Ministry

Whether you're considering the launch of your first multisite campus, thinking about planting your tenth church, or exploring the relocation of your existing church space, you must think strategically about that expansion process.

The two guests on this fifth and final episode of the Alignment Conference Podcast know that reality all too well.

For nearly three years, Bob Gray, project developer at Aspen Group, and Graham Richards, senior pastor at Thrive Christian Church, worked alongside each other exploring new growth opportunities within the church. And this past summer, all that work came to fruition with the opening of Thrive's new site in Westfield, Indiana.

In this episode, Bob and Graham reflect back on that process, discussing the questions they worked through, including:  How do you know when it’s time to make a change, and, what kind of change should be made?

On October 17, Thrive Christian Church will host the 2017 Alignment Conference, giving church leaders a chance to see firsthand the impact that a new, strategically-designed space can have for a church. Listen to this podcast, and you'll be well prepared for this year's event.


R E G I S T E R   N O W

Read the Full Transcript Below:

Evan McBroom: Welcome to the Alignment podcast. I'm Evan McBroom, and I'm the emcee for this year's Alignment Conference on October 17 in Westfield, Indiana — a northern suburb of Indianapolis. I'm joined today in the Fishhook podcast studio by three really good friends that I've known for a number of years in different capacities. First up is Marian Liautaud. Marian is the director of marketing for Aspen Group. Marian, how are you?

Marian Liautaud: Hey Evan, I'm good! How are you?

Evan McBroom: I'm good. Now, do I remember right? Were you sailing yesterday on Lake Michigan, and now you're down here in Indianapolis?

Marian Liautaud: I was. It's amazing.

Evan McBroom: Was it great?

Marian Liautaud: Yeah. It was a beautiful night. Big waves, big wind. It was tons of fun.

Evan McBroom: Excellent. Excellent. Sitting next to Marian is Bob Gray, project developer for Aspen Group. Bob, how are you today?

Bob Gray: Fantastic, Evan. It's great to be here.

Evan McBroom: It's good to have you here. We always love Bob coming around anywhere because Bob brings a smile, a glimmer in his eye, and an excitement about being in a room, so I'm glad you're here. Really, that's what we talk about when you're not here.

Bob Gray: Thank you, Evan.

Evan McBroom: There's worse things that people say when you're not in a room.

Bob Gray: Absolutely.

Evan McBroom: Also, Graham Richards, senior pastor of Thrive Christian Church in Westfield. Graham, how are you, sir?

Graham Richards: Hey, Evan, I'm doing very well. Thanks. It's good to be here.

Evan McBroom: I'm glad you're here. It's been exciting to know about and hear about the journey you guys have been on, and I can't wait to hear it firsthand today.

Graham Richards: Oh yeah, looking forward to sharing.

Evan McBroom: Excellent. Marian, let's kick off with you, if we can. Let's talk just briefly. Before we dive into the journey that Thrive has been on and why that's relevant for the conversation around the Alignment Conference, set the stage for us around the Alignment Conference itself.

Marian Liautaud: Our Alignment Conference that Aspen hosts every year, this year it will be on Tuesday, October 17, and we are having it at the new Thrive Church, which is almost ready to have their grand opening. It's a church that Aspen has been building and working with that community for quite a while now, so we're excited to showcase that facility to show the ministry impact that it's going to have, and so we'll have our conference there this year.

This year, we're going to be focusing on the topic of Launching Your Next Church, and so we'll be looking at all of the ways that churches can be thinking about how to expand strategically, so whether they're thinking about multisites or {church} planting or any number of hybrid variations of expanding your congregation, our conference is going to focus on that topic.

Evan McBroom: Awesome. I'm excited. And I'm excited to get to emcee it, one of my favorite things to do in the year.

Marian Liautaud: Yeah. We love having you there for that.

Evan McBroom: Well, it's great to be there. Let me ask you, if I can, Graham, tell us about Thrive and the season that you are in right now. What's going on at Thrive?

Graham Richards: Oh yeah, Evan, it is a real exciting time for us at Thrive right now. The season that we're in, it's kind of a season of renewal. It's a season where basically God has said to our church . . . He has said, "Go." It's an exciting time because our leadership has heard God speaking into the church, and so we're just taking a step of faith and going as the Lord leads out before us. So yeah, we're pretty excited about the journey that we're on and what's to come.

Evan McBroom: Awesome! Bob, share with us a little bit about your relationship between you and Graham and then also, organizationally, between Aspen Group and Thrive.

Bob Gray: Absolutely. It was late 2014, when we developed the first relationship with Thrive Church. Actually, at that time, it was Central Christian Church, and that relationship grew very, very quickly into just development of some great opportunities for ministry outreach, ministry design activities and things that were beginning to evolve into things that were going to grow for the future church.

It was amazing to see how leadership actually came around this project. And not only leadership, but they placed God directly at the center of all the conversations that we had, and so without him at the center of the conversation this thing probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground. We had a huge level of trust with one another, and we knew for sure, without a doubt, that God was at the center of each and every conversation — each and every meeting that we had.

Evan McBroom: Graham, where have those conversations brought you? Give us a little history lesson in the last three or four years of your church.

Graham Richards: Oh, sure. Yeah. Well, we've had a longstanding hope, vision, dream to move to the west as Carmel and Westfield has grown northward and westward. We've had a plan to move out that direction and relocate, but only at the time when God shows us that it's the right time to move.

What happened, just a little while ago, is several things came together, where, just undeniably, it was God's hand and he was just showing us, "Now is the time." Some of those things included . . .  somebody reached out to buy our old church building from us. I don't know if anybody here has ever been involved in trying to sell a church building.

Evan McBroom: Right.

Graham Richards: It's quite a tricky thing to do. But how we got breakthrough with this, we did nothing. We're just not that smart. Somebody reached out and said, "Hey, you want to sell that thing?" We thought, "Yeah, let's do this."

Evan McBroom: It was on the leadership's heart that some change was coming, correct?

Graham Richards: Oh, yeah.

Evan McBroom: But you had not yet publicized that or released it?

Graham Richards: Yeah. It was in the back of the mind, one of those things, "Hey, we'll do this when the time is right," but we hadn't really discerned that. And so we had a buyer for our facility, and then at about the same time — it was just literally just a few weeks apart — a developer reached out to us because we owned a parcel of land.

We bought a farm some years ago in readiness for this project, but a developer reached out to purchase the excess land that we didn't need. And that happened just a few weeks in proximity to somebody trying to buy our building, so we were thinking: "Hang on a minute here. We've got a buyer for this building. We've got a buyer for this land. I think God is trying to get our attention here."

Evan McBroom: Now Marian, are you able to promise this type of experience to anyone who comes to the Alignment Conference, is that correct?

Marian Liautaud: As far as a builder and a developer and all of that, oh, yeah.

Evan McBroom: All of that stuff, is that going to happen?

Marian Liautaud: Yeah, yeah. It will happen to everybody just like that.

Evan McBroom: Sure, it will. Well, what will be amazing is everyone will have their own story with its ups and its downs and its great surprises. These things came together. You discerned God's hand was in the midst of this. What were some big, bold steps you had to take?

Actually, before you go there, what were the wrestlings that you knew a change was needed? What were the things that just weren't quite right, from a facility standpoint, with why you needed to make a move?

Graham Richards: Yeah. Well, I want to be kind about our facility that was, because back in a previous day, some people invested their time, their talent, and their treasure into that. And so I'm so thankful to God for that. However, with the passage of time, the facility is kind of dated. That doesn't really fit the congregation we were becoming, and so that was really the issue.

We needed a different kind of space. We had more young families, more children, more youth. We just needed a different kind of space, so we were starting to look ahead to really look to when the time will be right to move.

Evan McBroom: Bob, leading the project for Aspen Group, as you started to get to know the leaders there, what were the things that, for you, were signaling, "This may be a move and not a remodel," because there's a lot of ways to approach this? What were some of the things that were leading to your guidance there?

Bob Gray: Evan, there was a renewal of a spirit that just emanated from the meetings that we had with the congregation. We developed early on a rapport with the congregation more so than a lot of other churches that we work with.

This was a neat opportunity just to delve into some of the deeper conversations that were necessary to really extract that bit of information that led us to say, "This is the time," that the timing was right for us to move and help lead this church to this parcel of property. Again, as Graham mentioned, there were things that were just stacking up. They were so right, and the timing was so perfect that it allowed us to move in those directions much more easily.

Evan McBroom: There was something you did called The Discovery Summit, correct? Tell us about The Discovery Summit. I understand Aspen did focus groups, so Thrive could really learn who you were. What did that process say to you, Graham?

Graham Richards: It really encouraged us because it helped me to see the level of readiness in the church for what was to come. Nobody wants to do something so dramatic that is just going to fracture and just really scare folks unnecessarily. 

What that process, at least revealed to me, was that our folks were ready for this. They wanted to be part of a move of God. And there was a certain hunger in the church, and so that's what that was showing me.

Evan McBroom: I think I remember a former Alignment Conference speaker, Kevin Ford, one time saying, "Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can tolerate." We do not want to fracture them, right?

Graham Richards: I like that. I like that.

Evan McBroom: Bob, what would you add to The Discovery Summit?

Bob Gray: That was absolutely the most incredible summit that I've experienced. We went through the gamut of emotion from jubilation to just tears of thinking through the facility, the memories that were established over the years, and the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that existing facility. But  realizing at that moment that it was time and God's perspective on this.

The tagline of the church at that time was, "God's Got This," and it was evident that he took ahold of something that was in the hearts of the congregation. And it just grew to a point where everybody knew for sure. I don't think I've seen the unity in another church as much as I've seen through the Thrive congregation, and so I'm extremely excited about what the future holds for the congregation.

Evan McBroom: The Discovery Summit, is this something that you do for every Aspen project, every client, every church?

Bob Gray: Evan, it is. It's a standard process that we use. However, it's a very organic process because each church obviously has a distinct DNA, and so extracting that, pulling it out, and observing that firsthand is probably the most exciting thing that you can possibly see.

I wish I could bottle that. I wish I could script that, but it cannot be because it truly is a matter of tapping into what the Spirit will have for the group of people that are involved in that. It is, however, a part of our process, and it's a very solid, distinct part of what we do.

Evan McBroom: Let me ask, Graham, what else has changed? Facility, lots of things, design and plan and ground broken and stuff coming up, all that. What else has had to change?

Graham Richards: Yeah. I think that the biggest way I can answer that question is just with a single word:  Faith. Basically, the Bible tells us, "Without faith, it's impossible to please God," and so what I've been observing is just how God has been growing our faith in all of this.

I spoke a moment or two ago in this interview and was saying, almost these things that came together, it made it sound like, well, it was so easy. I still want to say, we took a step of faith into this, so I'm proud of our elders and the church to take this step of faith because the sequence — how it happened — was we had to let go of something before we knew for sure that we would be able to take hold of something else.

I think that was the precise moment at which God saw something and something spiritually was set into place or set into motion that fueled the journey. We let go of something, and we've had this interim time — in temporary accommodation while we've been waiting to move into the new space — but everyone has been up for this and looking ahead.

Evan McBroom: Wow. You sold the old facility and moved out.

Graham Richards: Yup.

Evan McBroom: You're in temporary space, and then the day's coming. Some time this summer, right, between now and the conference, when you all will move into that space.

Graham Richards: Yeah. We have a grand opening planned for June 25th.

Evan McBroom: Wow! It's still going to have that new church building smell when we show up, won't it?

Graham Richards: It will. Take it out for a spin. It smells new.

Evan McBroom: We'll test drive it a little bit.

Graham Richards: Yeah.

Evan McBroom: That's awesome. Anything else to add, Bob, to the story here. Specifically, as we think about church leaders listening in this moment and trying to decide what does God have for them in a facility project and how might this conference be part of that journey?

Bob Gray: I would say to keep in mind that trust is a big factor here, and the partners that come to the table, there has to be transparency and trust at the front of every conversation. What we experienced with Central/Thrive was this level of trust and openness that exceeded expectations, I think, from both sides.

That's what we strive for in each and every project because we know, without a doubt, that the money that is being spent is hard earned money. It's money that is given up sacrificially, and so we are stewards of the monies that are being spent. So from Aspen's perspective, we take that very, very seriously.

With every project that comes about, it's not necessarily just the project — that we want to complete a project — but we want to develop more of a family opportunity and an atmosphere where we understand the church. We are part of the church. We become part of the family of that church, and so it has happened. What that means, from our perspective, is that now we've got a friend for life. Whether that means that we're going to come in and worship or have a cup of coffee, that door and opportunity is always open. And so just the transformation from our hearts and the church's heart has been tremendous.

Evan McBroom: Awesome. Let me ask, Graham, as you think about those doors — the literal doors of your church opening — what will the ministry impact be, do you think, that this new building will help facilitate? What will the ministry impact be?

Graham Richards: Well, we did a demographic study of the area, and we discovered — or at least had confirmed — just the age profile of the average family in the area, and the children, the kind of person we would hope to reach as a church if we want to be relevant to these folks who are all around us and as new neighborhoods are going and everything. God's bringing the people in there.

For us, our new space, it's going to have a preschool with a whole bunch of classes. It's going to be a key way for us to serve this community. Our preschool's going to be super important, and then our children and youth spaces too, because we want to serve the families that God's bringing all around us.

Evan McBroom: Those of us who live near this area can attest to the amount of development that is going in. God's providence — and you all purchasing that bit of land some time ago, is a beautiful thing — and all of the housing developments that are going up around you attest to that.

Graham Richards: Yup. Yup.

Evan McBroom: Awesome. Graham, thanks so much.

Graham Richards: You're welcome.

Evan McBroom: Marian, let me turn to you as we wrap here. What is your hope for church leaders who attend the Alignment Conference?

Marian Liautaud: Yeah. Evan, we always hope to create a day primarily for pastors and ministry leaders, creating time and space for them to really think about where is God leading them as a church. For this year, we're thinking about Launching Your Next Church. We really want to give people time to consider best practices for doing that well, what the data is telling us about how people are experiencing church today, so what the cultural shifts are. We'll have Barna there speaking into that, into the research that we had done recently with them called More Than MultiSite.

We also love to provide peer-to-peer learning during the day, so we'll have some panel conversations. We'll have time throughout the day for our church leaders to just meet and talk with each other to find out like, "How about you? Did that happen? Oh, me too," those kinds of things.

Also, by being at Thrive, it gives churches a chance to see the impact that a new, strategically-designed space can have for a church. It can really accelerate the growth that you experience and the people that you are specifically trying to reach. Space can really do that.

It can tell a story about God and his people, and it definitely tells a story about the church itself. And so we want leaders to have a chance to experience what it is to be in a well-designed space — whether it's a brand new building or a remodeled building, space really does matter.

Evan McBroom: It does matter. Thanks, Marian. Well, I would just encourage everyone, f you've not been there, go to, the website for the 2017 Alignment Conference, Launching Your Next Church, October 17, 2017 at Thrive Christian Church in Westfield, Indiana. When you go there, you can click the big button that says, "REGISTER," and get a seat and save it, and we'll look forward to seeing you there. Marian, Bob, and Graham, thanks for being with me today.

Marian Liautaud: Thanks, Evan.

Bob Gray: Thank you, Evan.

Graham Richards: Thanks, Evan.


2017 Alignment Conference


About Marian V. Liautaud

Marian is former Director of Marketing for Aspen Group.