Mercy Hill Church: multiplying through relationships
Jeremy Dager is sitting in his office talking about relationships. Not building his next sermon series around relationships…because he rarely preaches. Not for a retreat topic…because he rarely does those either. Not even about the drama that exists between a dating couple…because he rarely lives in the weeds like that. What consumes Jeremy Dager, one of the founding elders of Mercy Hill Church, is how he can more effectively “leverage relationships.” Why? Because that’s how he built Mercy Hill’s incredibly decentralized collegiate ministry.
“Hold everything with open hands,” he explains. So what all is he holding in his open hands? A lot. As Mercy Hill’s Pastor of Age Level Ministries, Jeremy oversees the kids, youth, and college ministries. “Oh, one of those combo positions,” you ask? Yes. But Mercy Hill is reaching 400 college students from 8 campuses in what North Carolinians call The Triad: Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. But because he has set such a high bar, he only claims effectiveness on four of those campuses – the ones where they have networks of community groups where students are engaged in what they call “life-giving community.” Granted, they are launching another one at the largest HCBU in the nation this fall to make five, but who’s counting? What makes the whole thing even more staggering is the fact that Mercy Hill Church didn’t even start until September 2012. In about 3 ½ years they have grown from 35 people to 1,750 people. And 75% of those are in a Community Groups. Standing back on the outside, I have found myself asking, “How did this happen?”
The simple answer is simplicity. And that simplicity is rooted in vision and core values. Jeremy explains, “We minimize things so that we can reproduce faster.” Mercy Hill’s college ministry is not sexy. They don’t have a band. They don’t even have a college worship gathering. They don’t do many events at all – maybe two per year. They don’t have a lot of the things college ministries have. No giveaways or booths at new student orientations. Instead, Jeremy clarifies, “We only do two things: community groups and sending students.” There’s genius in the simplicity. Because they don’t have a large group gathering, and everything is built upon community groups, they can reach several campuses without having to worry about finding a universal culture. Each group can take on the identity of the campus it is reaching. They can be all things to all people, whether it’s a community college like Guilford Tech, a public university like UNC-Greensboro, a private liberal arts school like Elon University, or an HBCU like NC A&T. And the reproduction? At High Point University alone, one of the most inaccessible college campuses in NC, they have gone from a handful of students to 100 students meeting in 5 groups – even though they were stiff-armed by the administration. And all that happened in less than two years.
So what is it about those relationships? And how does Mercy Hill leverage them? That’s pretty simple too. Jeremy says, “All you need is one student equipped to lead and you can start a group.” And that has proven true all over those campuses. How does Jeremy know when it’s time to go to a new campus? When he has a leader at that campus. Build a leader; send the leader. It’s the Mercy Hill way.
How does it start? It goes back to Dager’s “leverage the relationship.” A student from one of the campuses shows up at Mercy Hill. That student connects to one of the church’s multi-generational community groups and begins to serve in the church. She begins to absorb the Mercy Hill DNA. She starts to see her campus as a mission field. So her church sends her to the campus to fulfill the vision God has placed in her. Her role is to pioneer. She “takes new ground.” She finds pathways into groups of athletes or Greek life. She goes where there is no Gospel influence. She begins to live the Gospel among those students. She gathers those students. She introduces a married man and woman to those students, and they all begin to meet in that couple’s home. They become a community group. And the pioneer leaves. She begins to look for new pathways. She takes new ground. Pretty soon, a student from the group meeting in that couple’s home gets a vision for his campus. So Mercy Hill sends him, too. Just like Jeremy said, “All you need is a leader, and you can start a community group.” That’s how you leverage relationships to multiply ministry onto new campuses. And if every church did that, #Nocampusleft would be a reality…not just in North Carolina…but across the nation.