Back in 2000, Chris Pinion was not sure he would ever be a pastor again. He had helped plant two churches, and he was feeling the burnout. He thought maybe God was done using him for ministry. So he started working at a large grocery chain in Belton, Missouri.
About six months into that job, God showed Chris that ministry never ends.
“I remember it like it was today,” Chris said. “I was complaining to one of my coworkers who was a believer, saying, ‘Man, I wish I could get back into full-time ministry, but I’ve got to pay the bills.’ Then I got a phone call. One of our assistant managers had shot himself.”
There were about 300 employees at this grocery store. Given his position and his experience in ministry, Chris was uniquely suited to help them navigate their grief and grapple with their coworker’s suicide.
“The director asked me to clear my schedule and offer to meet with the employees who wanted to talk,” Chris said. “God helped me see then that being in full-time ministry doesn’t always mean being employed as a full-time minister.”
That tragedy rekindled Chris’s desire to help hurting people and let God lead him in ministry.
Chris Pinion, Pastor of LifeQuest Church
A New Church Begins
“In January 2003 we launched a Bible study called Alpha,” Chris described. “We used the Alpha curriculum and rented an office. I was working full-time at the grocery store, and I would meet with unchurched people and go through the study material.”
A handful of people from this Bible study helped launch what would eventually become LifeQuest Church, the 330-member congregation in Belton, Missouri where Chris is now Lead Pastor. They held their first outreach event on April 19, 2003—the day before their first service. The event was an outdoor Easter egg hunt, open to the entire community.
“Since I worked for the grocery store, they allowed me to distribute flyers, and we had 20,000 people coming through the store,” Chris said. “I put on the flyer ‘Rain or shine, we’re having this.’ Well that day at 7:00 am it was raining harder than I’ve ever seen it rain. For hours. So we pulled everything inside that we could, and we ended up having over 4,500 people show up for an Easter egg hunt. Indoors. The next day we had 75 people show up for the service.”
They did all that with about 7-10 people on their launch team.
Whatever It Takes
LifeQuest has always had a “Whatever it takes” attitude. They are not afraid to experiment and try new things if it could mean leading more people to Christ. Their mission is: “Increase the traffic to heaven by creating life-changing communities.” That means they have to get out there in the community.
“I look at myself as the pastor to our county, not just to our church or our city,” Chris said. “I believe if you want to reach a lot of people, you’ve got to have a lot of influence.”
That mentality has led Chris to meet regularly with business professionals in the community and become a chaplain with their local fire department. He also works in real estate part-time, where he gets to build relationships with people around the county.
“We’re out there in the community,” Chris said. “We don’t spend all our time in the office.”
For Chris, much of this is the result of a recent discovery: his identity does not come from his role as a pastor. It comes from his personal relationship with Christ.
“I spent a lot of my life trying to be like Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley,” Chris admitted. “But I went on a sabbatical a few years ago, and during that time God helped me give up the push to be a megapastor and helped me see that having a mega-influence is more important.”
Not Married to the Methods
Chris was not called to be Steven Furtick. Or Perry Noble. Or Andy Stanley. God was not asking Chris to worry about numbers or pleasing people.
“Why don’t I just align my life with what God wants me to do and live the life God wants me to live?” Chris asked himself. “And so I moved from being a passive leader to being an assertive leader.”
Chris’s personal growth and his discovery of who he was in Christ has paralleled LifeQuest’s journey.
“We don’t look at other churches and try to be other churches,” Chris said. “We just focus on being who God has created us to be. And we’re growing. We’re convinced that we’re growing because we’re different. The average contemporary church has become the traditional church that we all didn’t want to be when we started.”
Modern trends that LifeQuest once thought were innovative began to grow stale.
“God helped me give up the push to be a megapastor and helped me see that having a mega-influence is more important.” —@chrispinion
“We were so married to the methods, and the reality is moving lights and stage lights and fog and all of this stuff is a method, but it wasn’t helping us reach the people we were trying to reach anymore,” Chris said. “When you’re not married to the methods, you can move the mission forward a lot faster by trying new things.”
Chris and his team began to see other areas where trusted methodologies could be holding them back.
“I was always taught that you shouldn’t be friends with your staff,” he said. “But you know what? Some of my best friends are on staff. You just have to learn to wear different hats. Our staff is a family, and the closer we are, the healthier the church is, because the people in the church see that.”
LifeQuest Church lobby decorated for Chirstmas 2018
One Book at a Time
Over the last couple of years especially, Chris has noticed a shift in LifeQuest’s spiritual health. They baptized more than 20 people at the lake last summer. Giving is increasing. He is spending more time developing leaders within the church.
While Chris’s sermons used to always be topical, he has started to balance that with more expository sermons. Some pastors may fear that preaching through a book of the Bible chapter by chapter could make it harder for people to connect God’s Word to their lives, but LifeQuest has seen attendance steadily continuing to grow—even through the summer months—as they explore Scripture one book at a time.
“I don’t want our people to be biblically illiterate,” Chris said. “But I realized if I kept preaching topically and not teaching through all of God’s counsel, then that’s malpractice as a pastor.”
LifeQuest is also making an intentional effort to reach people who are often on the margins of their communities.
“We’ve reached a lot of homeless people and less-fortunate friends,” Chris said. “We reach a lot of people with mental illnesses, and so we’ve started working with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and they come in and teach small groups about mental illness and talk to families and people who are dealing with that.”
As Chris and the staff have focused on their own spiritual health, it has spilled over into the congregation and their ministries.
Giving: A Spiritual Thing
A little over a year ago, LifeQuest was looking to refinance their loan so they could free some capital and make some much-needed updates. Their nursery was overcrowded, and they needed to build a new one so they could separate the infants from more mobile babies. They also needed a new parking lot to accommodate the increasing traffic flow.
Chris has been friends with Eric Schroeder for more than 20 years. They are workout partners. And Eric works for a bank. So naturally, Chris went to him to talk about their options.
“You know what?” Eric said. “I hate to give away business, but I think CDF could help you better than we could.”
Eric is also on the board of directors for CDF Capital. So he knew that while his bank could handle the financial side, CDF Capital does far more for the churches they work with. Eric knew his friend Chris would get insight from former pastors and church growth experts who could help him foresee potential problems and identify opportunities.
“I was pursuing his bank for a loan, and for him to turn away that business shows me he is all about Kingdom thinking, not just business,” Chris said.
Eric connected him to Dirk Scates, CDF Vice President of Ministry Development.
“Dirk has been a pastor, so I knew I could really relate to him,” Chris said. “And we just hit it off. Dirk has been a pivotal person in my life. We’ve become good friends.”
Then Chris Davenport, CDF's Senior Director of Facility Solutions, took time to meet with LifeQuest.
Front desk for the LifeQuest Church kid's area
“Chris came and gave us input, and we put everything he told us into practice within six months. Within a year, everything we had the time, money, and talent for—it was all done.”
To cover the new improvements, LifeQuest set out to raise $15,000 cash on the church’s 15-year anniversary—only two months away. They had never raised so much in so little time. But they wound up raising just shy of $20,000.
“People are taking ownership of the church, and that’s translating into giving,” Chris said. “To me that’s a spiritual victory too, because giving is a very spiritual thing.”
They renovated the lobby, got a new sound system, installed new flooring in the kids’ area, and added signage.
“I believe CDF is a group of people that aren’t just here to loan us money,” Chris said. “They’re here to partner with us in a 360-degree way. They’ve done several leadership trainings with us and with our staff. They’re not just running a business. They care about what we’re trying to do. CDF has been very generous with us. And we wouldn’t be where we are today without CDF.”
LifeQuest’s partnership with CDF Capital led to much more than a loan.
“CDF allowed us to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do financially,” Chris said. “And then through that, we grew numerically, financially, and spiritually. We’ve also seen a lot of breakthroughs in our men’s group. We have people coming to Christ and entering into one-on-one discipleship. New leaders emerging. It’s crazy what God is doing.”
“CDF allowed us to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do financially. And then through that, we grew numerically, financially, and spiritually.” —@chrispinion
Dirk also told Chris and his team about the North American Christian Conference, which was nearby in Kansas City in the summer of 2017. Chris said this first NACC experience was awesome.
“They were some of the most generous, open-handed leaders interacting with my team. They made us feel like part of the tribe, even though we were brand new. We built a great relationship with a ton of them.”
Focused on Health
But for Chris, there was also a much bigger lesson that came from this process, and it changed everything.
“I stopped chasing after church growth and started focusing on being healthy,” he said. “How can I be healthy spiritually? How can I have a healthy family? a healthy staff? a healthy church? And guess what happened? Healthy things grow. If your garden is healthy, it’s going to grow.”
Focusing on growth freed Chris from the burden of dwelling on numbers.
“I don’t have to wake up every morning worrying about if the offerings are low,” he said. “I just want to be healthy, so I can have fun on the journey. If the journey with my staff, my family, and my church isn’t fun, what am I doing?”
Years ago, it would have been hard for Chris to imagine the church being where it is today.
“I remember the day where I thought, I don’t know how we’re going to make it. I don’t know how I’m going to make it,” he said.
Over the years, God has shown him again and again exactly how they are going to make it: “It’s not Chris Pinion. It’s not the methods. It’s Jesus.”
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