“Meeting Neil Cole is, well, anticlimactic…I don’t mean to say that Cole himself is anticlimactic, but his surroundings. You see, Cole–and everything he shapes–is ‘anti-slick.’”
In 1998 while training leaders in Australia, I read a book called Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman. The book looked at some of the businesses that changed their fields and consequently society in radical ways by thinking differently and producing something that had never been seen before.
In the book the authors compared several company starts and portrayed some common qualities. Some of the companies they looked at were: The Walt Disney Co., Apple Computers, Lockheed’s SkunkWorks and Hewlitt Packard. Most were started in a garage or an abandoned warehouse on a rarely used lot or airfield. Interesting, all of these were started in California. From those unsuspecting locales the world was changed forever. Feature animation was born. The personal computer and printer was created. The stealth flight technology was invented. While other companies with greater resources and state of the art facilities were trying to create something earth shaking, these small bands of highly committed, creative and selectively chosen people were meeting in ugly places without any luxury and for little or no money. They were working for something more than a job or a successful business; they were literally shifting the history of mankind. The authors speculated such humble locales allowed for greater creativity because they were less distracted and comfortable and were frankly more desperate. But I think it may be more than that. God always delights to use simple and weak things to confound the powerful and wise.
Having always been an artist that desired to be creative and help people to view things from new perspectives, I read the book with keen interest and learned what I could. When we set out to start CMA in the Long Beach area, influenced by this book, we moved into some very humble digs. The CMA offices in Signal Hill are completely forgettable. There is nothing shiny or pretty about them. Today five church plants, a publishing and resource ministry, two city transformation ministries and a house of 24/7 prayer all share this small and unattractive workspace throughout the week. That’s quite a contrast to the multi-million dollar, shiny state of the art facilities found in every city that house only one church and, in many cases, for only one day a week.
I remember when I had a surprise visit from Dave Travis and Linda Stanley of Leadership Network looking for true church multiplication ministries to invite into the Burning Bush project. I think they saw our office and wondered how anything good can come from such a “modest” place. Actually, I wonder how something world changing can actually be initiated from a swank place, but I “think differently” (as Steve Jobs says). Linda and Dave actually came to appreciate our movement and became great friends and supporters of CMA, but I still occasionally hear them laugh about that first unimpressive meeting (we’re still not impressive).
Church history has proven again and again that true revival is ignited from the ground up, and never the top down. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
Ed Stetzer and his co-authors Elmer Towns and Warren Bird made our offices famous in the first chapter of their book 11 Innovations in the Local Church. It reads:
“[CMA’s] massive operation without (much of) a parking lot has a grand total of 1.5 employees but trains 2,000 people in 12 states and around the world. Not bad for a guy with a nasty hole in his couch.” [pp. 26-27].
We’ve seen God do a whole lot more since that time. CMA has trained
close to 45,000 people to plant organic churches. There are organic church plants in all 50 states and probably as many nations of the world. There is more than one Organic Church Planter’s Greenhouse (our current training mechanism) happening every week somewhere in the world with over 100 experienced church planters trained to present the material. We’ve innovated, piloted and developed new wineskins for church planting, disciple-making, leadership development and multiplication movements from that same nasty couch. We still only have one full-time employee and two part-timers. Some of our castaway resources that we helped to develop here and now sit on our famous “shelf of shame” are still highly sought after by others, such as the profile assessment system for church planter assessment.
After 13 years of fruitful world impact from the humble, oft overlooked offices found at the corner of 21st and Cherry in Signal Hill CA, CMA and all the associated local ministries birthed in and around it, are vacating this familiar location. Due to the economy and leading of our Lord we are letting go of this birthplace. Following our own values of being decentralized we will function more virtually and virally.
CMAResources will continue. From most people’s perspective little or nothing will change. We simply will have a new address (still in Signal Hill). Our stock will ship from different locations but who will really notice that? It is our associate ministries that utilize this space that will really be more affected than CMAResources, and we are most sorry for that.
We leave with gratitude for what God accomplished with a handful of highly motivated people eager to be a part of something new and global in significance.
For any interested, we will have a “Bon Voyage” party for any who have been part of the work that came out of this place on Saturday evening September 17, 2011 starting at 6 PM. If you’ve been part of Awakening Chapels, CMA, Eternal Grace, Crossroads, Kingdom Causes (LB/Regional), MCTV, LoveHOP, Student Initiatives, Icthus, Passion Church, Campus Church Network, Student Church Ministries, the Light Christian Fellowship, TruthQuest or any of the other church planting networks and/or associated ministries that flowed from this place, you are invited to this event. We will have a barbeque in the parking lot and praise in the big room (I know, it's not that big). Bring your own meat and come with stories to tell and songs of praise to sing. All are welcome.
We leave with gratitude for what has been, anticipation for what will be, and a sense of sadness for leaving a very familiar place full of warm memories...and holy couches.