CNLP 150: Rural Multisite: Overcoming All The Odds To Create Vibrant Churches in Small Towns and Villages with Chad Merrell, Paul Smith and Philip Thurman

Ten years ago, most people would have said multisite only works in large suburban centers. Chad Merrell, Paul Smith and Philip Thurman have proved the experts wrong and built thriving mutisite churches in villages as small as 2000 people.

In this honest interview, they share how they overcame the odds and isolate the principles to help other leaders do it too.

Welcome to Episode 150 of the podcast.

Chad Merrell

Chad Merrell

Phillip Thurman

Phillip Thurman

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Guest Links

Chad Merrell

First West

Chad’s website

Chad on Twitter

Phillip Thurman

Vertical Church

Phillip on Twitter

Paul Smith

Rivertown Community Church

Paul on Twitter

Links Mentioned

The Deep & Wide Tour

The Orange Conference

Financial Peace University

The Financial Learning Experience

CedarCreek Church, Ohio

3 Insights from This Episode

1. Developing leaders in a rural context

Rural communities aren’t always leadership magnets. And even great leaders that rise up in rural communities don’t usually stay there. So where and how do you find and develop pastors or teams?  How do you keep the leadership pipeline full?

For Paul, he’s found that shoulder tapping people who show leadership potential works well. He looks for a group of potential leaders and invites them into a small group setting where they read books together and work on development.

In Phillip’s church, their staff is predominately bi-vocational with full-time jobs outside of the church. People who choose to be on church staff even though they have a full-time job outside of the church have a drive, commitment and passion that usually makes them natural leaders. Phillip supports them by pouring into them constantly to keep their well from running dry. He’s there to walk with them through the ups and downs of life, ministry and mission.

Chad’s strategy is to hire people with forward thinking minds who have the potential to grow and move into new roles. Then, Chad emphasizes the vision again and again and again. This is because they’re potential leaders, and potential leaders are attracted to big vision. If Chad keeps hiring forward thinkers, and he keeps sharing vision, people will keep asking to be part of it.

2. More margin means focused mission

The average income is typically lower in a rural context. This means that for people to invest in the church, both in time, money and passion, you need to help them find margin. If they can get margin, they’ll live on mission.

All three pastors agreed that a big part of that was getting first the staff, and then the rest of the church, financially healthy. Financial health programs linked above. Money is something people worry about, get divorced over, and leave the church over. It’s a big deal. Getting the church financially healthy isn’t just about creating healthy tithers, but creating healthy families, which lead to healthy communities and thriving churches.

3. Essential tips for starting in a smaller context


  • The campus pastor needs to be a person from the community. If they’re from the community, then they’ll inherently understand the needs of the community. And church members won’t be anxious about an outsider coming in to change things.


  • Everything has to be more relational than suburban or urban settings. In a culture where everyone knows everyone, relationships are everything in rural context.


  • Find the hub of the community. The hub isn’t as visible as it is in the suburbs or city. There isn’t a main street or large commerce area. We have to take time to find where people are doing life, what they care about, and then fit those passions within the vision of the church.

Quotes from This Episode

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Next Episode: Mark Clark

Mark Clark pastors one of Canada’s largest and fastest growing churches. Attracting thousands of young adults, Mark has a unique approach to apologetics and preaching that’s connecting with a post-Christian, post-modern generation.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 151.


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  2. Travis Stephens on August 25, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Really loved this podcast. As a pastor of a multisite church in a very rural area it’s always nice to hear about others who are having success in similar situations.

  3. Ben Pearson on July 27, 2017 at 7:47 am

    I second the question about the perfect 10,000 sq ft footprint! I’m a revivatalizer at a church with a really small building that I’d like see renovated in the coming months.

    • Ethan Callison on August 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      I third this, as a multisite Campus pastor, I would LOVE to see this to benefit from this!

  4. Jeret Foshee on July 26, 2017 at 8:26 am

    What a great podcast! Thank you so much for sharing. We are a few hours from Paul Smith and have met with him and his team a few times and just soak up all the wisdom he has to offer as we embark on a similar journey in a similar setting. So cool to hear how the rural church is making an impact in the communities they are called to. Thank you Paul, Chad, Phillip, and Carey for the wisdom and encouragement. God Bless!

  5. Dusty Smith on July 25, 2017 at 7:51 am

    What are the chances that we can get a look at that “perfect 10,000 sqft footprint”?

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