CNLP 322: James Emery White on Why He Shut Down Multisite, the Future of Digital Outreach and How to Grow Your Church Younger As the Leader Grows Older

In an age where many churches and businesses are opening locations, James Emery White decided to close all of his…and experienced the biggest growth they’ve had in years.

Jim explains why they did it, how it happened, why he’s investing so much in digital outreach and how to grow your church younger when you grow older as a leader.

Welcome to Episode 322 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.

Guest Links

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Church and Culture

Episode Links

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Building a StoryBrand with Donald Miller, Episode #182: Jeff Henderson—Build Your Business by Taking a Stand

Christ Among the Dragons by James Emery White

Church and Culture: The Vanishing Eccelesiology

Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians by James Emery White

A Search for the Spiritual by James Emery White

Mecklenburg Community Church

3 Insights from Jim

1. We need to be married to the mission not the methodology

So many churches fall in love with how they are doing church that it begins to take priority over the mission. James Emery White does his best to keep the opposite mindset at all levels of their organization. For them, the mission is sacred and nothing else. If something doesn’t help more people come to Jesus, they don’t do it.

One way that he does this is by casting the vision to the church often and heavy. He attacks the mindsets that put people’s preference over reaching the lost, and he challenges his people to “die to themselves” a disproportionately high amount. He believes that this is one of their biggest success factors.

2. We have to give people the option of staying anonymous as long as possible

Jim has taken their church in the direction of having more and more evangelism and outreach happen online. When they get people into these processes, they are very intentional about letting people stay anonymous as long as they would like. Once people come out into the public, then they engage them in community.

This is the modern example of someone sitting in the back by the exit for months and finally stepping forward to volunteer, become baptized, or some other form of engagement. Those people had the option to stay anonymous if they would like, and our online audiences need that option as well.

3. If you want to be relevant to the next generation, be yourself

So many pastors think that the key to staying relevant with the next generation is to wear hipster glasses, tight jeans, and talk as though you are super young and hip. Jim argues that this is actually weird to the next generation. They would much prefer that you be yourself and be a mentor for them however you can be.

The next generation has endless access to information and almost no access to wisdom. They’ve never been parented and they’ve never had a functional family. So, if you can be that father figure and a wisdom figure who is culturally literate and who is relevant, but who’s bringing wisdom to bear, and get to a place where you’re almost fathering them in a way they never were fathered, the attraction is just palpable.

Quotes from Episode 322

'Multisite is a physical approach in a digital world. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

When you've started something, it takes a certain degree of humility and courage to end it. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

Most databases these days are completely outdated. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

I'm very cold-hearted toward methodology. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

We really did have a culture where everybody realized it's all about the mission. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

I've often said that, when you're dealing with the depraved church and every church is depraved, you have to spend a disproportionate amount of energy on those things that involve death of self. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

We really want the online experience to be wide open and then they can let us know when they're ready, because otherwise we could scare them off. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

Today’s young people have endless access to information and almost no access to wisdom. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

I want to bring on people who intuitively know what to do, and they only come to you when they need coaching or help pass something over to think through something. @JamesEmeryWhite Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 322

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

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Help Your Church Grow Without Compromising Biblical Integrity

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Next Episode: Josh Gagnon

Having dreams is easy. Keeping dreams alive is difficult, especially in the face of rejection and disappointment. What do you do when your book proposal gets rejected, your church isn’t growing as fast as you think it should and your life, though good, isn’t happening the way you hoped? Pastor and author, Josh Gagnon, talks about his experience of rejection and disappointment, what’s he’s learned and how to keep your dream alive when you’re facing setbacks.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 323.

CNLP 322: James Emery White on Why He Shut Down Multisite, the Future of Digital Outreach and How to Grow Your Church Younger As the Leader Grows Older


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  9. Drew Anderson on February 20, 2020 at 11:22 am

    I have never left a comment. You do an excellent job of interviewing and I’ve always appreciated your podcast even when I disagreed with the conversation. In this case I could not disagree more with promoting what Meck and James White did. It reeks of middle class, suburban, majority white culture. It also reeks of a pandering about numberic growth of attendees, not disciples – y’all act as if what he did wasn’t motivated by growing numbers more because somehow closing campuses is “brave.” No, brave is removing yourself as the spotlight and planting churches. Even in your own predictions of where the church is headed we know smaller, deeper relational contexts are the future. The digital age is changing the church. But this continued perpetuating of butts in seats and not planting churches, multiplying lead pastors, and focusing on deep relationships as the goal, will only continue to lead to healthy, smaller churches feeling inadequate and promoting models that are simply not reproducible into the majority of our country and the world. I’m disappointed honestly in a world of decentralization that a centralized approach is still being portrayed as the goal.

  10. Tanya on February 20, 2020 at 10:29 am

    Interesting . . . I am sure that James’ rationale for moving to a centralized approach is justifiable. I understand the importance of having a strong digital presence. I understand the benefit of focusing resources on fewer initiatives, i.e., one central location plus superior digital services versus multiple locations and mediocre digital services. I recognize, as well, that every church has to determine its mission field. That being said, I would hate to see every church adopting this approach. These are a couple of thoughts that I had while I was listening.
    1. As a society, aren’t we moving toward lower carbon-emitting alternatives? Asking people to drive farther distances to attend a church is not energy efficient, is it? If I lived in a warmer place like Charlotte, I would want to walk everywhere.
    2. What about the disenfranchised people in the core areas? Are they to be served only by the inner city mission church with few resources and fewer healthy members? I hope the church doesn’t forget about these people.
    3. The entire time I was listening to the podcast, I kept thinking, “Is he ever going to mention Elevation Church?” It felt to me like the elephant in the room. James’ church is located in Charlotte, the same city where one of the most successful (my opinion/observation) churches in the world is located. I was surprised that he didn’t at least give a nod in their direction. He suggested that a church can EITHER pursue multi-site campuses OR build a strong digital infrastructure. I think Elevation Church is highly successful in both multi-site campuses and digital.

    I am very intrigued by James’ new book, however. I have also checked out the Church and Culture website. It contains great resources.

    Thank you!

  11. Rhonda Giacomelli on February 18, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    Brilliant. Anointed. Confirming. Bless you guys!!!

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