So after our trip to Edinburgh we drove to Manchester to visit CCM and have dinner with some of the leaders.
CCM has an interesting history, founded in Gorton just east of the city by Colin Baron, their original intention for this Newfrontiers affiliated church was to plant a large suburban church, but a few years down the road they realised this simply wasn’t what God wanted and actually it didn’t really match the gift mix of their leaders.
So a few years ago the church began an interesting new journey, first of all they felt a nudge from God to reach a slightly younger crowd, mainly students and young professionals in the city. There was no way they would reach them in Gorton so they decided to go to them. This is where Tim & Vicki Simmonds stepped in, Tim & Vicki moved to Manchester from Birmingham and launched what would later become CCM:City. It wasn’t a mega success story, with hundreds of young adults flocking through their doors, but slowly and over time they began to gather people in a vodka bar on a Wednesday evening, before outgrowing that space and moving to a regular Sunday evening slot in Fallowfield. And so suddenly this small church in a poor neighbourhood of Manchester had another congregation on its hands right in the city centre.
Now in doing this, they never set out to be what many would call a multi-site church. They simply followed the gentle leading of God to see another group of people in their city reached and the outcome was another church being planted. Having done this once they began to dream what it would look like if they did it again and so a little while later CCM:Withington was born.
Right now CCM has four sites meeting in three different locations, there is CCM:Gorton, CCM:City (with a morning and evening site) and CCM:Withington. They have plans for CCM:Didsbury which is gathering as a launch team right now, before they officially start as the fifth site in 2016 .
Their vision is to remain as one church (for as long as they can anyway) with one central resource and one legal governing charity. Each site has its own team of leaders and they are coached and led by Colin and what they refer to as their eldership. Each site also has its own mission to work out in their location and ultimately it’s their task to figure out what church life looks like for them in their context. They all share the same brand and family identity and the plan is to keep multiplying this model all over the city with the potential of reaching 100’s, if not 1000’s.
So what did we take away from this visit? Well I must admit I’ve been aware of CCM’s story for a little while now as I’ve been trying to see what is happening with the whole multi-site approach here in the UK. Now CCM is fairly unique in that none of their sites grow much beyond 100 people. This is very intentional and really helps shape that family feel you sense at their gatherings. It’s also a size of church that the leaders say match their gifts. Following this logic its clear to see they’ve been able to reach far more people across multiple locations, than their own gifts would of permitted them to do in one place!
Also key to their strategy is their ability to identify and deploy new leaders, with each site having a smaller feel, it has enabled them to release more leaders who perhaps wouldn't of thrived or wouldn’t of been given an opportunity in a large church environment, and actually in a smaller church they are flourishing and are helping lead a wonderful church community. It also means they’ve sometimes had to lower the bar and take a few more risks with people - many of which seem to have paid off, from what I could see anyway!
The other thing I really loved was the collaboration between sites, they hardly ever gather all the sites together for one big gathering. But what you do see happening is lots of mutual support of one another. So when we visited CCM:City, with it being summer and many away on holiday the worship band that morning was actually made up of people from two of the sites. They’ve also done things where they’ve mobilised a team of students in the CCM:City site to go and do mission along side the people at CCM:Gorton. A place where students in the city would simply have no context to ever be. They really are one church, but meeting and expressing itself in many different locations, in a very collaborative way.
I also really appreciated their honesty, in the midst of following this strategy they’ve had one or two planned sites that just didn’t take off and so they’ve had to be willing and humble enough to stop and just close them down. The thing they seem to do well in the birth of a new site, is to lower bar of expectation while still maintaining a sense of momentum. So they communicate things like “we’re going to have a go at planting something in this area. we’re just going to take a punt, if it works great, if it doesn’t never mind!” - There is something quite freeing when we create environments of risk but make it clear it's okay to fail. As I heard someone say at the International Vineyard Conference this summer:
if we don’t have any failure stories to tell, it means we are not taking enough risks
One last thing I noticed about Colin Baron the founding leader of CCM was this; clearly he has now transitioned in to a more coaching and mentoring roll within CCM, as they train many of the young leaders in their church.
On the Sunday morning we visited it was wonderful to see him sitting somewhere near the back smiling and cheering on a young 20 something student in the church preaching a great sermon on Humility. I was reminded again that the fruit of an apple tree is never just apples, it’s always another tree and it was just wonderful to see this leader - who’d had some notoriety, who over the last 30+ years had planted multiple churches - looking on with joy at the fruits of his labour, just wonderful!