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

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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

Phillip Thurman

Paul Smith

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

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

We had more opposition to moving to two services than to moving to multisite. Click To Tweet 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 Click To Tweet 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 Click To Tweet 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 Click To Tweet Usually the guy who says video teaching doesn't work is the guy who wants to teach. Click To Tweet

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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.

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to a private online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.