CNLP 235: John Van Pay on Leading America’s Fastest Growing Church While Being Home 5 Nights a Week, How to Find Margin Amidst Growth and How to Say No to Stay Focused

John Van Pay’s first decade of ministry didn’t go the way he planned. He was driven and ambitious, but his wife was ready to leave him. That caught John’s attention.

He then went on to plant a church with the stated plan of being home 5 nights a week. He honored that. Within a decade, Gateway Church became the fastest growing church in America. John explains how to find margin even in a season of growth and how to say no to stay focused.

Welcome to Episode 235 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

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3 Insights from John

1. You can’t forsake family in the name of the Kingdom

Many in ministry learn this the hard way. With the best of intentions, it’s easy to get caught up in the mission of leading other’s to Christ, all the while neglecting to lead at home.

Think back on the past year. Out of 365 nights, how many family dinners have you missed? How many date nights have you had with your spouse? Or how many game nights have you missed with your close circle of friends?

Listen, I’m not trying to guilt you and I don’t have the magic ratio of work to home, but if any of those questions raise a flag, it my be time to make some changes. You can’t forsake family in the name of the Kingdom, because, whether you realize it or not, when your relationships with others are struggling, odds are your relationship with God is, too.

2. Take time internally to process your external yes or no

We’ve all been there. Feeling strained to say yes when we know the answer should be no. Setting boundaries takes discipline. It takes sticking to an intentional plan. The best practice is taking time internally to look for what to say externally when telling somebody no (or yes).

First, ask yourself if saying yes would be the wisest decision. What will have the biggest kingdom impact? Will it protect personal family time, the staff’s time with family? How does saying yes speak to the vision of your mission? If the answer isn’t obvious, go to prayer and scripture for confirmation.

There’s also safety in having a multitude of advisors. Having three to five trustworthy people who can speak into situations with wisdom can offer a lot of clarity. Taking in all those factors without rush will hopefully reveal wisdom.

Beyond that – communicate well. Communicating the why’s clearly and with humility should soften the blow of a hard no.

3. Follow up with first time guests in the name of discipleship

When people come through the doors of Gateway Church for the first time, they are going to receive a personal visit from a small group leader who lives in their area within 24 hours.

Seriously. I was blown away by hearing this, too. You’d think the church would receive a lot of pushback, but the system is clearly working.

For John and his church, it’s all about discipleship and creating a welcoming first impression. So, once they have that volunteered first timer’s address, a small group leader is ready to personally thank them for coming, pray for them and invite them into their home. It’s a no-pressure, how can I pray for you, we have a lot in common, approach that’s relational and focused on friendship. It’s Gateway’s strategy toward fulfilling the great commission as best they can by winning their city over to Christ.

Quotes from Episode 235

Sometimes we don't change until we realize what something can cost us. @JohnVanPay Click To Tweet If you have a lame marriage, you're going to have a lame ministry. @JohnVanPay Click To Tweet It is crucial for us to have a good pace and not use the excuse that we're in a season. We're going to have to learn to say no. Not every idea is a God idea. @JohnVanPay Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 235

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Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

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Next Episode: Jonathan Pokluda

Everybody wants to do what God has allowed Jonathan Pokluda to do, but few do it. Jonathan Pokluda leads the Porch, the largest young adult ministry in America that reaches thousands live every Tuesday night, and 50,000 to 100,000 young adults via podcast and other platforms. JP talks about the keys to reaching, understanding, influencing and deploying young adults in the church and in corporate America.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 236.


  1. Chris Dixon on January 16, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    Hi Carey and John.

    Something I would have loved to have been discussed in more depth, was the practical how-to that Gateway Church uses in training small group leaders, and also your recommendations with regards discipleship resources. Are there any previous episodes that cover this, or would I need to fly around the world to get the first-hand experience?

    The reason for my question is because I can see a global need for some comprehensive how-to in a world drowning in information, but also a personal challenge for myself. (Before I’m asked, yes, the Bible has some pretty good modelling in it, and I’m a student of the Bible, but the Bible is not a step-by-step manual.) Feel free to e-mail me directly with any helpful resources or links if that would be more appropriate.

    Once again, thank you for the podcast. I’m still catching up on previous episodes.
    Kind Regards,

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  3. Doug on January 8, 2019 at 7:35 am

    I’m a 40 year Reborn Christian, and I’ve never left The Church, but through much false condemnation, realized it has left me, long ago.

    Therefore I’ve had to leave “The Great Whore” which most call churches, to seek and find the true church, scattered here & there.

    And you better believe I never miss a chance at gathering with “The Church”.

    I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
    In fact, I’ve even left the Great Whore church just to “forsake not the gathering of the brethren”! Amen!

  4. Phill on December 31, 2018 at 2:19 am

    Hey Carey thanks for all you do to encourage all pastors across the world! Just do you know I’m riding my Rocky Mountain element in Australia while listening as well! Thanks

    • Steven Ibbotson on January 7, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Carey, Usually appreciate your podcast and the great interviews, guests, and the challenges & insights they give on life and leadership. However, I feel I need to say this podcast with John Van Pay felt “fake” or manufactured (ie “Three Simple Ways to…”) . Usually you find ways to lead your guests to be quite vulnerable and I just did not feel John was “really honest” in his sharing or got deep personally or in terms of leadership. Maybe just me… Listened to the podcast on Jan 7 so I don’t think it was just “busy Christmas day” or holiday blues. Again, still plan to listen regularly to your podcast but wanted to share my (negative) perspective on this one podcast specifically. Will be curious to know if others had a similar experience.

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