Heart for the House – Fall Vision – What is Substance Doing in 2021?
The end of the year is always fun at Substance! And after a year like 2020… we could all use it! For starters: Late-October means Vision Season: We always unveil the soon coming upgrades followed by a Heart for the House leadership night (This Sunday Oct 25th). And then, come December, Christmas at Substance is always over-the-top! Every year, we always try to break the mold and out-do ourselves: Giant Christmas trees… full orchestras… dance crews… even yodelers and time-machines!?
“Yeah, but Pastor Peter, with COVID, are we still ‘going big’ for Christmas?”
HECK. YEAH. People need Jesus, hope, and joy, more than EVER! (And the sitcom we’re filming will be a perfect end to 2020). Besides: We’ve been able to do over 200 events with no COVID outbreaks. So, I’m pretty sure we’ve proven to the world that it’s possible to do in-person services in a way that’s both safe and responsible. But, even still, for the extra cautious folks, we’re making plans for an all-digital Christmas special that is sure to make you proud.
However, before we dive into the vision for 2021, can we take a moment and reflect on all we’ve accomplished this year?
THE LONGEST YEAR, EVER…
After a record setting Christmas, we kicked off the year by officially launching our Monterrey Mexico campus!
Many of you know, Substance helps launch churches all over the world: From Ireland to South Africa, your money has already launched over 900 autonomous churches! But, we’re also a church that launches campuses too (a.k.a., churches that operate directly under our budget, teachings, and leadership).
The day is coming when Substance will have campuses in London, Fort-Lauderdale, (and places only God knows.) But, over the past five years, we’ve been asking the question: “What would it look like for Substance to have both an out-of-state campus and an out of country campus?” And the answer to that question came swiftly after a short speaking trip I made to Mexico.
A few years back, Substance sent out our very own staff members, Isaac & Lindsay Cortes, to plant Alcance Church in Monterrey Mexico. I’ve known both of them since my days pastoring in Wisconsin. So, it was sad to watch them go. But God knew, this wasn’t the end!
Almost every year, pastors approach me with a desire to take their autonomous church and make it a Substance campus. And every year, up until now, we’ve always said, “no.” But, back in early 2019, as I was preaching for Isaac & Lindsay in Mexico, I was overwhelmed by how similar it felt to Substance. (And Heck… they were from Substance). And as we sipped coffee together at a swanky café, I said: “Man! I wish we had more young hip Latino influence at Substance!” And they said: “Well, we wish we could still be a part of Substance staff!” And suddenly, the thought occurred to us: “What if we’re better together?”
Now, if you haven’t been to Monterrey Mexico… it feels like downtown Miami. Yet, it’s cradled between some of the most dramatic mountain cliffs in all of North America. As one of the top manufacturing hubs in North America, it’s probably the wealthiest city in Central America. Skyscrapers, restaurants, and subways stations are exploding everywhere. Even the Mall of America felt boring next to Paseo San Pedro. And somewhere between the long Minnesota winters and the deep fried Monterrey churros, God started to speak: “Peter, this is not an accident!” And in January 2020, we officially adopted Alcance Church to become Substance Monterrey.
But to continue our 2020 recap: Our momentum was not slowing down in February. After prepping for a West Side campus for over a year, on February 23rd, we officially launched “Substance West-Side” at Wayzata Central Middle school. Ideally, our target area was centered on Maple Grove – which is where the majority of our launch team currently lives. So, although the Middle school was a bit south of our target, we also knew: We gotta start somewhere! And the saying goes: “You can’t steer a ship that’s not moving forward!” And sure enough: After launching, we hit some of our highest attendance numbers in Substance history. We had close to 700 people at our first West Side service! And not surprisingly, we had hundreds of new people joining Substance through our Growth Track.
And BOOM! That’s when 2020 took a different trajectory.
All across the world, experts told us: “Over 2 million will die if we don’t shut the whole world down.” And even worse, mainstream media became obsessed with the idea that churches will become the “super-spreaders.”
Not surprisingly, Public school systems began executing a masse eviction of churches… which felt a bit unfair. After all: If the schools aren’t even going to use these spaces, and none of the school staff or kids are at risk, what difference does it make? They might as well make money, right?
Back in March, there were easily over 10,000 portable churches who rented public school auditoriums across the country. And the portable churches I’m talking about comprised roughly 80% of the American churches’ evangelism success in 2019. Generally speaking, portable churches tend to be the “Navy Seals” of evangelism. (And there are actually a lot of fascinating reasons for this). But, it suffices to say that most of them are young & hyper-missional. So, when churches like these get evicted in masse (regardless of their safety precautions) it will result in an unmitigated disaster – not merely for American evangelism but for public-school funding too – as portable churches provide hundreds of millions of dollars to public schools – all of which has stopped.
By May, research was starting to show that digital church was a total failure for a huge portion of the body of Christ.
Don’t get me wrong: Digital church worked great for churches like ours! But, we were a small-group savvy church with a media production company. But for the average church, the current research shows that 32% of American Christians quit going to church all-together after COVID-19 shut down in-person services. Let that sink in for a second. One Third of the American church been erased in the last seven months. And, not surprisingly, there’s been an equal drop in the typical churches’ finances.
Even more dramatic: An additional 14% of American Christians have switched churches in the last 7 months. In other words, the American church is going through one of the greatest purges and mega-shifts in its history.
Now, once again: The trend at Substance is completely different. Thankfully, our finances have remained steady. And, in regards to that 14% who’ve switched churches, Substance has been on the receiving-end as we’ve been getting a crazy amount of visitors in the past couple months.
But, I bring this up because, I really think it’s important to pray for the American church right now. The calling on our church is a lot bigger than just our church. We are called to be advocates – which is not a convenient verb in a year like this. However, my goal in bringing all of this up isn’t to depress you (or make a political statement); however, all of these realities have required a shift in priorities. And I believe that, if we do this right, we can set ourselves up for harvest unlike anything we’ve ever seen. As I’ve said from the beginning: God always creates opportunities for us in the crisis!
As one example: Let’s return to that stat about the 32% of the American Church who’s fallen away from Christ. What’s going to happen to them? Well, Psalm 16:4 predicts: “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other God’s.” I.e., The sad news is that, life is going to get more depressing. But, as we pray for them, there is going to come a point in the coming year or two when they have the same revelation as the Prodigal son: “What am I doing? I need to go back to my Father’s house! Even the lowest of the servants in my Father’s house eats better than me.” (Luke 15:17ff) 
In other words, the tide will eventually come back in. And those who stay faithful are going to bring in a harvest unlike anything we’ve ever seen (Rev. 2:26)!
So, think about 2021 like this: We are prepping for an unprecedented harvest. And here’s how we’re going to do it:
(1). We want to Upgrade Northtown (NTN) & Downtown (DTN) for “Wow-Oriented Outreach”
Many of you have participated in our “Love this City” outreaches at DTN as well as our Manna Market grocery distribution outreach at NTN. Yet, although they’ve been a huge win, we also know that, our current approach isn’t very sustainable (especially in DTN with the snow).
So here’s what we’re dreaming about:
Before COVID, people used to come into Manna market like a grocery store and shop for exactly what they wanted. So, we started thinking: What if people came into an environment similar to a high-end grocery store? What if the environment was so excellent that people started asking: “What kind of church is this?” I.e., “Wow!”
What if we had TVs on the wall marketing additional ministry opportunities… from our financial classes to youth programming? What if the volunteer experience was so fulfilling and compelling that churches all over the region came to volunteer? Every week, we get over a thousand Spanish speakers coming through Manna market. So, what if our Spanish-speaking campus in Mexico could reverse broadcast to a Spanish-speaking service here in the Twin Cities?
Only two years ago, I was desperately knocking on doors wanting to start a grocery distribution program at Substance, yet I couldn’t get any traction. But wow, how things have changed in just 12 months! And, I believe that God wants to do a bigger things in the next 12!
And the good news is this: We recently got a grant for a giant walk-in refrigerator at Northtown as well as a refrigerated truck that will help us do our outreach in downtown. We still have square footage at both DTN & NTN that have yet to be renovated. And, my gut tells me, there’s some interesting real-estate opportunities coming! And this leads to our second Heart for the House goal:
(2). We Want to Save Up for Multiple Miracle Properties:
If there’s one hard lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is this: Renting in a Post-COVID / Post-Christian Culture is getting increasingly complicated. Don’t get me wrong: We want to get our West Side Campus going again, even if that means a rental property. But the good news is this: The real-estate market is going to be swamped with empty buildings come 2021. So join us in praying for a West Side property. Be praying for Monterrey property. And I even have crazy faith for more opportunities around DTN & NTN!
Imagine if we had a dream center near Historic Wesley… a place where teachers, hair stylists, musicians, doctors, lawyers, dentists, tutors, and mentors could volunteer 7 days / week. What we ask God for is a direct reflection of what we believe about His capability, His capacity, His character and His nature! So, let’s pray out prayers that fit the size of our God! And last but not least, let’s trust God for ways we can serve the entire body of Christ.
Our church has been extremely fortunate throughout this pandemic. And I’ve been asking God the question: “How can Substance better serve the “Capital C” Church?” And let me tell you: God has been giving our staff some crazy ideas!
For years, I’ve been asking: What if we had a small group devoted to every book of the Bible? What if we had a program or class for every imaginable spiritual discipline? One of the nice things about being a larger church community is the fact that we have the capacity to offer a veritable seminary of spiritual growth opportunities. The downside about being a larger church is that: Even when we have these programs, most people aren’t aware of them (or it’s hosted at the wrong campus and the distance is slightly too far).
But, right before the pandemic hit, we were hoping to unveil our plans for “Substance Leaders” – a discipleship pipeline designed to take your spiritual growth to a whole new level. What if we developed an assessment that could help you create a custom discipleship roadmap – a test that could measure your health in dozens of areas: marital; sexual; spiritual; financial; and more? What if this assessment could even predict: “If you really want to grow this semester, consider joining this ministry, at this campus, at this service?” What if this assessment could even be driven by artificial intelligence software? What if it could suggest: “Here are 5 people you need to meet at Substance… and five messages you need to listen to that might have the greatest impact on your spiritual growth this quarter?”
Now, as far-fetched as this might sound, we are already working on it! And in 2021, you will get to experience “Phase 1” of this discipleship pipeline.
But here’s how it intersects with our Heart for the House Offering. As we build this virtual discipleship platform, we want to do it in a way that can serve the body of Christ. The pandemic revealed that, the vast majority of the church is not ready for the digital future. And although Substance’s current digital strategy is functional, I believe we can design something a hundred times better… and we are!
Many of you know, back in 2012 our church played a role in developing the Bible App for Kids along with One Hope and YouVersion. And within a short window of time, over 50 million kids downloaded it (in every country of the world) & read the Bible because of what your money did! (That’s 78,000 installs per day!) In other words, the Bible is going to countries where missionaries aren’t even legally allowed to go! Our church also funded the translation costs for Danish & Finnish! So, you can bet there will be millions of Scandinavian kids in heaven because of you Substance! #Skol
But my point is this: Technology allowed our ministry dollars to scale like never before. And we are looking to do the same again with Substance Leaders.
Over the last 7 months, Substance has helped hundreds of churches transition to digital church. And in doing this, we came up with a dozen fun digital solutions that could totally change the body of Christ. So, think about it this way: Just like we’re building out physical spaces for Substance, our goal is to make digital spaces too – except, scale them for the entire body of Christ! And thus, our 3rd Heart for the House goal:
(3). We Want to invest in “Digital Church Spaces” for the Body of Christ.
Now, there’s a lot I can’t tell you about our digital initiatives yet. But, I can tell you that, ALL OF YOU will play a big role in this.
Five years from now, our church is going to invent a lot of bizarre new ministry roles: Software pastors; Vlogging Pastors; (Heck, we already have a DJ pastor haha)! In fact, the whole goal of Substance Leaders is to better tap into yourcrazy gifts! And we’re going to start revealing our plans come January!
So, be praying for our upcoming Heart for the House Offerings in November. And join us on Oct 25th for our Evening with Tommy Barnet! Most people don’t know, he was a part of our Downtown miracle building. And I believe God is going to do another miracle through him as he ministers at our Sunday services as well as our Special evening services (at both NTN & DTN).
Of course, at Substance, we never do high-pressure fundraisers. In fact, we never ask people to give money. Rather, we simply share the vision and ask people to “ask God” how they would get involved. To some, this may sound like semantics. But to us, the difference is everything. A true vision from God will always sell itself.
But the other reason we have people “ask God” is because: We want you to learn to hear from God! Whenever he speaks, he also provides! So, your faith is a huge portion of the Substance Miracle. And we want 2021 to be a turn-around year for the body of Christ!
“So Heavenly Father… let your will be done on earth, in our church, and in our country, as it is done in heaven. In Jesus’ name we pray!” Amen?
Ps. Don’t forget our special Heart for the House Vision Night with Tommy Barnett (Both DTN & NTN!) Childcare is provided! 6:30-8:30 Register at www.substancechurch.com
 Since reopening in June, we’ve done over 200 church services and events (with attendances numbers between 150-250); yet, no outbreaks. And thank you to everyone who’s been extra vigilant about this! To be specific: We’ve only had two moments where a potential COVID exposure might have occurred. Yet, neither of these events became verifiable outbreaks. And, with your help, we would love to keep this delightful track-record.
 See Luke 15:17-18 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”