Man on a Mission
TRAVERSE CITY – Nick Twomey was a graduate student at Western Theological Seminary when he first came to Traverse City for an internship at Faith Reformed Church. That was 1993. He was hired at the end of his internship, completed his degree, and served the church until 1998.
"Out of the blue I resigned," he says. He had "caught a vision of what a church could be like" while attending a summit in Chicago. That year, he started Bay Pointe.
For the better part of nine years, Bay Pointe services were held in the auditorium in Traverse City Central High School.
Today, Twomey's non-denominational church has eclipsed some of the area's biggest houses of worship. Some 2,500 people call Bay Pointe home – home being the 35,000-square-foot facility that sits on nearly three dozen acres at the intersection of Secor and East Long Lake roads.
Twomey – handsome, charismatic and a deliberate departure from most peoples' concept of a traditional clergyman – is the church's lead pastor and, many say, the reason Bay Pointe has attracted so many devotees in little more than a decade.
As part of the TCBN's look at community builders this month, we sat down with Pastor Twomey to talk about Bay Pointe's place in the community, its not-so-traditional "rock and roll" style, and why he believes leadership in the business world has just as much a place in church as his fervent passion for Christ.
BN: Bay Pointe seems like much more than just a place to go every Sunday. What do you see as Bay Pointe's place in the community?
NT: We're in the people business. We believe Jesus changes people's lives. We're a community of people who have had their bells rung and worlds rocked by this man named Jesus. Our mission is to love God, grow leaders and reach people who don't know Jesus.
BN: You have your critics…
NT: Some people call us "the rock and roll church, the feel-good church." It's funny. Our harshest critics are other church people. There are people who accuse us of being in the entertainment business. Guilty as charged – provided you understand what the word means. To entertain is to arrest someone's attention and sustain it for a period of time. The message of God's love is so transforming that to not grab people's attention is a travesty.
BN: Live music (and sometimes it really is rock 'n' roll), multi-media presentations and drama are a few of the ways you reach people. Why?
NT: People say, Tell me the gospel in terms I can understand. The message is not watered down, but there are things we are willing to do to make a timeless message timely for this generation. I think we're fairly traditional in this sense: Followers of Jesus have always been about extending his love to others. But we can also be non-traditional and non-conforming. We have a huge commitment to people who are hurting – suffering from addictions, whether alcohol, drugs, or sexual addiction, which is rampant. We have the same sin issues, we just try to be real about it.
BN: The church is offering a simulcast of The Global Leadership Summit (willowcreek.com/summit) this month. Why? Last year was the first year Bay Pointe hosted the summit and nearly 200 Traverse City leaders attended.
NT: I know the rigors, joys and sorrows of leadership. It's not just a church leadership conference. It's for anyone leading anything. Leaders need practical skills to get better and they also need inspiration. Leaders get beat up a lot. Where do they get their tanks filled?[The annual premier training event is beamed live via satellite to more than 350 locations around the world, including Traverse City. When the summit first began in 1995, it was almost exclusively attended by church leaders. Then companies began sending employees and many continue to use it as one of their core annual training events.]
NT: The presenters are not all religious, but they are all leaders. [They include Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, best-selling author Seth Godin, and Mama Maggie Gobran, founder of Stephen's Children Ministry and Nobel Peace Prize nominee from Cairo, Egypt.]
BN: The church has partnerships with lots of organizations, from the local to the international level. Tell us about a few of those.
NT: We have partnered with Big Life Ministries, which is a 'church planting' movement in rural areas … areas where the church meets under a tree … no building or staff. In seven years, it has "planted" 4,700 churches. It's about taking the message to people in places where we can't go. Bright Hope in Haiti is another partnership. The church is also involved in giving micro-loans, which may be a bit unconventional. Some local partnerships we have are with Freedom Builders, Father Fred, and Kid's Hope.
BN: Bay Pointe offers podcasts and is on Facebook. You have a blog. Is this an emerging model for churches? Or simply a product of Baypointe's sheer size?
NT: The church is habitually behind the curve in everything. Social media helps us bring the message to this generation and communicate the message to a broader audience. There is someone in Norway who listens to our podcasts. We are hiring a social media guru. We don't have a Bay Pointe app yet, but we probably will soon. I think we're a little bit ahead of the curve in this town, but there are online churches that are leading the country with social media.
BN: The church describes itself as a "Biblically-functioning community." What does that mean?
NT: I'll start by telling you what a Biblically-dysfunctional community is. It is the hired, religious guns that punch the God clock and manipulate to get things done. We spend time finding out how God has wired you, and then we give you opportunities to serve. I want every person here to believe and act on one belief – that every one of them is a minister of Jesus. BN