Each local congregation is a unique expression of the church, sent to embody the gospel in a particular context. So each congregation is responsible to develop its own:
- Shepherding elder team and pastoral staff
- Sunday service preaching, music, facility, etc.
- Missional strategy and style for local context
- Member care, volunteer recruiting, leadership development, church discipline
A UNITED CHURCH FAMILY
As each local congregation pursues ministry in its own unique context, the Harbor Church ‘Ohana is united across the island by these four priorities:
- Covenant – We are united as a family by one covenant and statement of faith.
- Core Values – We value gospel, community, mission, and God’s glory.
- Communication – We present a consistent message (in preaching, community-groups, counseling, etc.) of how our sin has been overcome by God’s grace.
- Culture – We build an atmosphere of hospitality, humility, theological clarity, and collaboration.
A Strategic Elder Team (consisting of the lead pastors of each Harbor congregation and other strategic leaders) is tasked with the responsibility to ensure that the Harbor Church ‘Ohana pursues our overall vision within the bounds of those four priorities. Key leaders from each congregation are periodically invited to the Strategic Elder Team meeting.
We share resources, personnel, and administrative support, freeing congregations of the burden to dedicate energy, resources, and staff to meet those needs locally. We also partner in specific ministries, allowing us to do things together that would be difficult to accomplish on our own. These ministries include:
- Website and overall marketing
- Theological and pastoral training
- Church-planting and missions
- Specific ministries and events as desired (e.g. Youth Ministry, Island Song, etc.)
Leaders from across the Harbor ‘Ohana who have similar responsibilities in their local congregations connect regularly for relational support, collaboration, and discussion about best-practices. Leaders are able to share knowledge and creativity, learn from one another’s successes and failures, celebrate together and encourage one another.
If at some point in the future a congregation believes it might be able to pursue its mission more effectively as an autonomous church, the Strategic Elder Team will begin prayerful dialog with the Shepherding Elder Team of that congregation. If the Strategic Elder Team concurs, we will joyfully release that congregation to do the unique ministry it has been called by God to do. We will work with the elders of that congregation to craft a solid plan for autonomous ministry.
How did the Harbor Church ‘Ohana begin?
Harbor Church Honolulu was planted in 2005 and immediately began to attract people from across the island. Many attenders were driving long distances to come to church on Sunday morning. They could not realistically invite unsaved friends and neighbors to drive that far with them. We couldn’t keep taking people out of their missional/relational networks in order to attend church.
The elders knew God was calling us to plant churches across the island, but we didn’t believe it was sustainable to keep planting fully autonomous churches on such a small rock with such limited resources. So we prayerfully decided to pursue a multi-congregational model. We gained wisdom and encouragement from like-minded churches around the country who were seeing fruit using a similar strategy.
We sent a team of people to launch Harbor Church North Shore in 2013, then another team launched Harbor Church West Oahu in 2016. Harbor Nu’uanu was re-planted from an existing congregation in 2020. We look forward to planting many more churches across Oahu in the years to come.
What does “multi-congregational” mean?
We think the term “multi-congregational” most accurately describes what we’re doing. We are one church with multiple congregations. We are one organization, with one statement of faith, one covenant, one tax ID number, and one bank account. While united around theology, vision and values, each congregation has the opportunity and obligation to customize ministry to its particular context with its particular leadership.
What is the biblical precedent for this model?
The church is a people, not just an assembly or gathering place. This is clear because the people were called the “church” both when they were scattered (Acts 5:11; 8:1, 3) and when they were gathered (Acts 14:27; 15:22, 30).
We are inspired by the relational connections, collaboration, accountability, and tangible support that is plainly evident among New Testament churches (and woefully lacking in most modern churches). The first-century church didn’t just do a once-a-year city clean-up together. They sent leaders, resources, encouragement, and admonishment to each other.
The church in Antioch sent out church planters like Paul who came back regularly and reported to the church. There seemed to be a strong and ongoing connection between mother and daughter congregations.
What are the benefits?
Lead pastors benefit because they have a team of men in the same role who are supporting and encouraging them. Staff benefit because they have associates at other congregations who are doing similar work. Volunteer leaders and new staff benefit by the experience surrounding them in other congregations. Preachers benefit because they sharpen each other and share ideas weekly. Members benefit because they have more places to invite friends and co-workers who live in other parts of the island to attend. Each congregation is strengthened by the overall reputation of Harbor. Church planters benefit because they don’t have to reinvent the wheel (especially with admin) and they have the support and strength of a movement behind them. Newer congregations benefit because ministries and resources are available that wouldn’t be available if they were on their own.
How is the leadership structured?
Final authority in the Harbor Ohana is held by the entire eldership (including all Shepherding Elders), in matters which will impact all congregations (major financial decisions and real-estate transactions, binding partnerships, legal matters, church-plants, etc.). The Strategic Elder team makes recommendations that are affirmed by Shepherding Elders on core value alignment and new vision.
The Strategic Elder team consists of the lead pastors from each congregation along with other strategic leaders. This team is not focused on congregation-specific issues, but on Harbor-wide issues including overall vision, mission, and policy. To facilitate collaboration between the different elder teams, all elders meet together twice a year and notes from every elder team meeting are sent to all elders.
Elders from the local congregation have authority over congregational issues, with matters of significant congregational impact requiring affirmation from their covenant members. In the event of a transition for a congregation’s lead pastor, the local Shepherding Elder Team and Strategic Elder Team work closely to determine a succession plan.
How does preaching work?
Each congregation has regular live preaching, overseen by the congregation’s lead pastor. Most of the time (around 9 months out of the year) each congregation is preaching on the same biblical text or topic. This allows the preachers to study in advance together and share resources. It also builds unity across our congregations as everyone is thinking through and applying the same text. When necessary, the lead pastor has the freedom to set the scheduled sermon aside and address an issue he deems important.
How do finances work?
We share one bank account and finance system, with each congregation responsible to set its own budget, track its income and expenses, and strive to be financially self-supporting.
Can existing churches join the Harbor ‘Ohana?
Yes, but we are very slow, cautious, and deliberate. It can take some time to discern whether or not we are all solidly committed to the same beliefs, core values, culture, etc. The process starts with a season of informal discussion and non-binding ministry partnership. We then move into a “foster” relationship with the existing church, inviting its leaders into our Strategic Elder Team meetings and pursuing deeper ministry partnerships. If it still seems to be a good fit for everyone, we formally adopt the church as a congregation of the Harbor ‘Ohana, bringing it into our covenant, legal entity, and accounting system.
Will all future church plants be part of the Harbor ‘Ohana?
Not necessarily. While we believe there are many benefits to this kind of partnership, there may be planters sent from our congregations who want to pursue a different strategy or church-culture. We will only bring churches into the Harbor ‘Ohana who have an exceptionally strong affinity with our beliefs, values, and culture.