“Rather than sending out new churches to sink or swim on their own, we want to offer a much higher degree of partnership all the way through the process, including years after launch as the congregation passes through new stages of maturity, and encounters increasingly complex questions and diverse needs….

Photo by Mike Chu
Photo by Mike Chu

But by unifying as a Network, we can enjoy the best of both worlds!

Not only do we realize economies of scale, but by sharing our respective strengths, we are able to nurture many congregations that are highly involved in local neighborhoods, but also have the deeper resources of a larger church.”

See Perspectives From Across the Network below:

Photo by Mike Chu
Photo by Mike Chu

The Network Dream – Dave Swaim
The vision / dream to establish a Network and The Dream going forward.

The Highrock Network Model – Dr. Joseph Lee, Highrock Network Board Chair and Highrock Arlington Member
Choosing this model and inspirations from other models.

Church Planting – Josh Throneburg, Senior Pastor Highrock Brookline
Specific vision for church planting.

Reflections from Church Planters – Will & Becky Barnett, Lead & Associate Pastors, Highrock Acton and Stephen Sharkey, Lead Pastor at Highrock Quincy, planted in summer 2012
Reflections on what they are excited/inspired about.

Network Collaborations – Pastor Brynn Harrington. Associate Pastor Highrock Brookline
Excitement around shared events like Single Mingle.

The Network Dream
Highrock Arlington Lead Pastor David Swaim - photo by Mike Chu
Highrock Arlington Lead Pastor David Swaim

After planting 6 churches, and assisting with several more, I am more convinced than ever about the Kingdom impact of church planting, but I am also aware of how costly and challenging it is to plant a new church.

In addition to the obvious work of getting to know their new neighbors, and pulling off weekly services, the new congregation also needs to establish a constitution, a financial system, a tech infrastructure, and much more. These are essential, but usually not the kinds of things pastors or lay people dream about when they sense God’s call to plant a church. As a result, many of these chores can be draining distractions from the kind of ministry they are eager for.

And even once they pass all those hurdles, they will inevitably encounter new challenges that are common to most congregations, but can be profoundly discouraging for young planter or leadership team.

Finally, the cost associated with starting and supporting a church plant explains why almost all plants in the US are in middle or upper­middle class areas. Low resource communities struggle to sustain a church plant and a full­time pastor, much less multi­staff who can offer more services and spiritual leadership.

All of this is why we launched the Highrock Network. Rather than sending out new churches to sink or swim on their own, we want to offer a much higher degree of partnership all the way through the process, including years after launch as the congregation passes through new stages of maturity, and encounters increasingly complex questions and diverse needs.

By sharing resources and experience, as well as consolidating certain functions across the network, our goal is to plant more effective churches more efficiently, meaning that they will cost less in terms of both dollars and labor, but be able to focus more of their energy into reaching their neighborhoods, activating people into ministry, and growing in faith.

Usually we have to choose between smaller churches that are relationally rich and deeply embedded in their neighborhoods, and larger regional churches that can offer higher degrees of excellence and more programs to serve different people groups, but without that same personal touch.

But by unifying as a Network, we can enjoy the best of both worlds! Not only do we realize economies of scale, but by sharing our respective strengths, we are able to nurture many congregations that are highly involved in local neighborhoods, but also have the deeper resources of a larger church.

We’re already seeing the benefits of sharing sermon series and preaching preparation, website development, and collaborating on special events that no one of the congregations could pull off on her own.

Our next goal is to train more leaders and future pastors by developing shared training structures and giving young pastors broader exposure to multiple ministry contexts. At the same time, we are exploring how to plant effective congregations in lower resource areas.

We are still only in the early stages, but our dream is that God will use our collaboration to plant even more churches to reach even more of our neighbors with the Good News of Christ Jesus!

Mission friends. This is what it has always been about.

Dave Swaim

The Highrock Network Model
Dr. Joseph Lee, Highrock Network Board Chair and Highrock Arlington Member - photo by Mike Chu
Dr. Joseph Lee, Highrock Network Board Chair and Highrock Arlington Member

By 2014, Highrock Covenant Church in Arlington, MA had planted three other Highrock churches, started one Highrock campus church, and was planning for another plant. It was at this point that, for greater Kingdom impact, Highrock leaders wanted to formalize our informal connection of Highrock churches into a church network. The big question was: Which model should we adopt for this network?

Choosing the ‘right’ model for our newly formed church network was a year long journey trenched with many conversations, research and prayers. I remember one of those conversations early on in the process with Jason Condon, East Coast Conference Director of Church Planting. On the back of a paper placemat, the two of us diagrammed and discussed a continuum of various models from ‘multi worship services’ on one end to ‘fully autonomous and independent churches’ on the other end, with many intermediate models in between.

Highrock leaders researched various models both inside and outside of the Covenant. The common theme we encountered was this: Church plants who were sent as autonomous and independent churches longed for more guidance and connection with the sending church, whereas campus churches longed for more autonomy. Though we affirm all models in the Kingdom, we took the best of both models and finalized on a network model of churches that are ‘autonomous and collaborative.’

Our desire for collaboration reached beyond the local church level. From the beginning, we wanted to partner with our Conference and denomination. With strong support from Howard Burgoyne, East Coast Conference Superintendent, and the Conference Board, Highrock Network is in the process of becoming an Association of the East Coast Conference.

In sum, the Highrock Network Model is an organizational structure designed to allow member churches to better accomplish our vision by (1) reconciling the natural tension between being locally focused and having a Kingdom­sized impact on our city, (2) recognizing the autonomy of local churches while voluntarily collaborating for effective church planting, and (3) centralizing administrative tasks, freeing pastors and members for more effective ministry.

It is our hope that the Highrock Network Model may be a prototype for the formation of other networks within the East Coast Conference as well as the Covenant.

Dr. Joseph Lee, Highrock Network Board Chair and Highrock Arlington Member

Church Planting
Josh Throneburg, Senior Pastor Highrock Brookline - photo by Mike Chu
Josh Throneburg, Senior Pastor Highrock Brookline

Highrock Churches have always shared a vision to be locally focused congregations where people in the church live in the community and engage in the life of their neighbors. Our vision statement is clear ‐ we want to live and love in such a compelling and Christ‐like way that our neighbors are challenged to seriously consider the claims of Christ. In order to do that, we must be close enough to be seen.

Therefore, in order to live out our vision we don’t just need one mega‐church that draws people from great distances, but many local congregations embedded in the many neighborhoods that make up Greater Boston. One of the dreams of the Highrock Network is to help local Highrock churches identify, assess and train church planters for the Greater Boston area. So many communities in the Boston area don’t have a vibrant Christian church serving as a witness in their town, and we are hoping and praying that God will use us to start churches in those communities.

Josh Throneburg, Senior Pastor Highrock Brookline

Reflections from Church Planters
Stephen Sharkey, Lead Pastor at Highrock Quincy, planted in summer 2012 - photo by Mike Chu
Stephen Sharkey, Lead Pastor at Highrock Quincy, planted in summer 2012 – photo by Mike Chu

We are often told that church planting is lonely. And that as church planters, you have to learn how to do nearly everything. But planting within a network has been a different ballgame for us. That isn’t to say we don’t have lonely days and aren’t constantly having to learn new things, but the feeling is different. We might even describe it less as planting something new, and more like cultivating the growth of a newly­budding branch of an already deeply­rooted tree. As the youngest Highrock church that just launched in September 2015, we’ve loved having the network as a lifeline, support, and resource. When we had several volunteers go down sick for our Grand Opening Sunday, we had a carload of young adults from Highrock Cambridge show up on moment’s notice to hold babies and shepherd little ones. When we face new pastoral challenges, we send out a quick SOS, and soon are receiving insight and encouragement from network pastors over a ZOOM call. When we were searching for ways to spiritually mature our launch team, we could reach for the well­tested Spiritual Guides program developed at Highrock Arlington and plug it right in. The Covenant often talks about how we’re ‘in it together.’ Planting within a network has transformed that slogan into a daily reality, and allowed us to start much stronger than we ever could’ve on our own. We’re thankful for the gift of family.

Will & Becky Barnett, Lead & Associate Pastors, Highrock Acton

I love the recent rallying cry of the Covenant Church “In it together.” It speaks to our unity and common mission that spans across cultures, generations, across the country and beyond. As beautiful as this statement is, it is still so easy for a local congregation to feel alone. The Highrock Network has allowed us to put the spirit of “in it together” into a regional context so that we can tangibly support one another and combine our financial and human resources to better advance God’s mission in Boston. That means that a young, small, church plant like ours can participate in that mission in ways that we might not be able to serve otherwise. As a network we are able to share in resources like web development, local and global church planting, sermon series preparation, pulpit sharing, city­wide service projects, and more. Furthermore as pastors within the Highrock network we are better able to benefit from collegial relationships shared across the network that are invaluable as we do the hard work of leading our local congregations. As the pastor of a small church within a larger network the Highrock network allows me to experience the benefits of a larger pastoral staff and relationships, that truly allows us to be “in it together”.

Stephen Sharkey, Lead Pastor at Highrock Quincy, planted in summer 2012

Network Collaborations
Pastor Brynn Harrington. Associate Pastor Highrock Brookline - photo by Mike Chu
Pastor Brynn Harrington. Associate Pastor Highjack Brookline

I have been so grateful to see and be a part of the Highrock Network taking shape, particularly in the past year as our collaborative efforts have resulted in more and more opportunities for Highrockers in the Greater Boston Area to grow. As we’ve shared resources and supported one another across the network, I’ve seen us in our love of Christ and our neighbors both as individuals and as church communities.

I’ve always thought of the Highrock churches as a group of siblings ­we share DNA, name, and stories, but our personalities, giftedness, and obstacles are distinct. As in any family, our different cultures and personalities do not come without challenges. But when we’re at our best and leveraging our gifts together, these distinctions also make us much stronger. They provide us with more possibilities and broader imagination, and together, I believe we’ve been able to offer richer and deeper discipleship opportunities to one another.

We’ve been able to collaborate on events, like speed­dating for Highrock singles across the network, fundraisers to support missionaries, art shows, service projects, and worship services. We’ve dialogued over sermon preparation, as pastors helping one another see aspects of Scriptures we might have missed on our own and sharing those insights with our congregations. We’ve been able to share resources such as Highrock Spiritual Guides, a ministry of listening to the Holy Spirit together. Even in moments of struggle, we have had the benefit of collective wisdom and broader experience to draw on.

And while I’ve loved seeing all of this connectedness, I am also deeply grateful for our individuality and the freedom to allow God to work within us in our own unique contexts as well. Hope grows in the process of heavy­lifting and falling down, and because we have the freedom to fail and grow, we’re all so much stronger. Knowing that we can lean on each other in moments of strength as well as weakness, has been incredibly helpful and I believe, has encouraged us all to flourish to a greater degree.

Pastor Brynn Harrington. Associate Pastor Highrock Brookline