As subzero temperatures combined with heavy snow and ice on Christmas weekend 2022, a network of churches in Michigan planned 15 Christmas weekend services — only seven of which were able to take place in person — and saw 77 believers articulate a desire to have a relationship with Christ.
Even amid frigid weather, the ZERO Collective (which includes Frontline Community Church, The Center Church, New Life and The Story churches) planned a weekend of Christmas gatherings consistent with its mission of seeing zero people in the greater Grand Rapids area living unchanged by Jesus.
The Christmas services are just one example of how collaboration has allowed each congregation in the ZERO Collective to give deep focus to a shared mission with shared resources. Starting in 2016, Rev. Brian Blum felt God calling him to raise up other leaders. Over time, Wesleyan churches who had gone through leadership transition or other crises reached out to Frontline and their lead pastor Rev. Blum for collaboration. “At that point, we at Frontline had staff members who were ready for senior pastoring,” recalls Rev. Blum. “So, we sent some people, raised up others and now we’re all under one 501(c)3. This really is a high-autonomy model, where each person is a true lead pastor — and yet we’re united in the way we plan and implement services. It’s highly collaborative.”
Rev. Blum and other lead pastors at each ZERO Collective church work together to plan sermon series. The passage of Scripture and broader theme are the same at each location; but every pastor preaches with their own style, structure and congregation in mind.
The entire structure of the service, too, is collaborative across each ZERO Collective church. Corey Post, worship arts pastor at ZERO, works with worship leaders at each church to develop a shared bank of songs and service elements. “About 70-75% of our musical repertoire is the same at every church,” said Corey. “Around 25-30% of songs are particular to each church. We get together with all the worship leaders from the church every week and talk about sermon series and direction, and to evaluate how things went the past week, give each other feedback, and share how each other could improve in various categories.”
To step into this model, each church had to be prepared to be open to new ways of approaching challenges, opportunities and their neighbors. “We have a greater heart for people who are spread all across Grand Rapids,” said Rev. Blum. “One of the things that is really awesome and helpful but challenging — is that every church has a different demographic, style and its own unique kind of expression or footprint of the gospel.”
This kind of collaboration among churches is not typical (except among some multisite congregations, which usually function with less autonomy). But the benefit is clear: the church is joining together — mobilizing their congregations to do good in the community and to faithfully bear witness to God’s work. The next step in that mission is following up with each of the 77 people who made a declaration of intent to follow Christ. Among the 77 people who made commitments that weekend, one in particular — named Jeff — was an answer to the church’s specific long-term prayers.
The Christmas service was built around a series called “Captive Liberator” — the idea that God took on human limitations to liberate humanity from the chains of sin we often find ourselves in, and to set us free to a new way of being human that ripples into our relationships and neighborhoods and the systems around us. “Jesus unlocked the door from the inside,” said Rev. Blum.
Lining the front of the worship center were locks and congregants had the opportunity to unlock them if they were making a commitment to follow Christ. “At the invitation, Jeff came up,” recalled Rev. Blum. “Jeff’s wife, Diane came to church several years ago and got saved and baptized — but Jeff wouldn’t come. Diane was always praying for him to come to Christ and come to church. Anytime I ever met Jeff, he was like, ‘I want to have nothing to do with this.’ But I did Diane’s funeral in September … and then Jeff got invited to come to one of our Christmas services. Jeff was one of the first people up there who went up to unlock a lock. That’s what Diane prayed for all these years: that her husband would come to Christ.”
Jeff and 76 others will be part of ZERO Collective’s follow-up to Christmas services, which includes a plan to pair each person who unlocked a lock with a trained lay volunteer who can meet with them for discipleship, answer questions and continue steering them toward ways to nourish their relationship with God.
As Rev. Blum reflects on the service and the journey toward this collaborative model, he shares one key piece of advice: “Sometimes, especially around services like this, churches can be competitive. And yet we’re finding that competition is not the culture of the Kingdom. One of our core values is collaboration — we believe that God wants churches to work together; and while that requires us to give up things and embrace new processes … it feels like something big God is doing.”
For more information about how the ZERO Collective’s model works to build collaboration among churches, visit zerocollective.org.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.