I can’t tell you how often I’m asked, “Eva Marie Marie, where do you attend church?” When I answer, “Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida” I’m given a puzzled look. The distributed church is a new concept. Or, is it? Maybe this is the way it was always meant to be, rather than church buildings housing groups of distinct people—peculiar by any stretch of the word—holding on to church memberships as though they were to country clubs.

 

Among Jesus’ parting words were the following: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… (Matthew 28:19). Look at those first two words again. “Therefore go.” Maybe the Lord never meant for us to just sit in one spot…or one pew…and never branch out.

 

But, what is the distributed church? I took some time recently to meet with Sr. Pastor Dr. Joel Hunter and Vernon Rainwater, Pastor of Worship and Distributed Ministries of Northland, A Church Distributed to talk about this…new thing. This…going. Wanna listen in?

 

Eva Marie: Joel, can you give us a brief history of Northland and how it went from Northland Community Church to the distributed church.

 

Dr. Joel Hunter: I’m glad to be doing this with Vernon because this picture of the distributed church isn’t about any one person or perspective. The key to the distributed church is that you always need a complimentary perspective in order to have the whole perspective.

 

My memories are real simple. The church had been in existence about 12 years when I got here in 1995. It had just divided and there were maybe a couple hundred people, just hurting people, you know. It was a friendly split, but it was still a split and they were wondering a few months if they should even continue the church. They prayed about it, thinking, well, maybe God still has a purpose for us. So we got here in this little dumpy roller skating rink and basically it didn’t grow much ‘cause we had some healing to do. Then we got this vision that God would—through the next ten years—would focus us on one theme a year. Whether it be purpose or love or faith or wholeness or whatever—just one theme a year so we could squeeze it into our character. During that time the church exploded. I mean it just went from I think at that time we were at maybe 400 or maybe 500 and then we went to close to 6000 in attendance during that time. In 1998 we got this hint that God was doing something new. Instead of being a community church and just building up our congregation, God was calling us to define ourselves more by what was happening in relationships outside the building than in relationships inside the building.

 

We didn’t want to be the traditional community church anymore. We wanted re-center the focus from the congregation that meets inside a building to all of those Christians while they were in their fields—their ministries—every day, and reshape the church on behalf of their ministry rather than trying to get them into the church to do a church program.

 

Vernon Rainwater: The thing Joel probably wouldn’t tell you himself is the faithfulness of his preaching. I think this is what God has really honored. I think this is the key to those ten years of preaching and vision. God clearly gave this vision to Joel first, for the ten-year journey and the distributed church vision beyond that, and the rest of us kind of moved to the reality of seeing that was clearly what God had done.