You’ll be hard-pressed to find a churchgoer who carries a Bible to Church at the Springs on Sundays—and lead pastor Ron Sylvia doesn’t mind.
At “the Springs,” as it’s known—a multisite church based in Ocala, Fla.—most of its 3,000 or so members follow along during services with the YouVersion Bible app on their phones. Up front, Sylvia teaches from an iPad. Toss in contemporary-rock worship music, state-of-the-art LED screens, and Text to Give software (to simplify tithing), and it’s not difficult to see how the
pastor has cultivated such a following. “I don’t want people to step into a time warp to meet God,” Sylvia says. “The message will never change, but the method must. And our method is our delivery system.”
The 57-year-old pastor, a self-professed lover of numbers and technology, was studying for a bachelor’s degree in accounting when he entered the church ministry at age 21. What followed was two decades of trial and experimentation as Sylvia—moved by “a clear calling to start a contemporary church”—founded Church at the Springs in 1994.
Sylvia credits business management guru Tom Paterson in particular with helping him apply strategic thinking to the task of establishing new churches.
“Relevance is a moving target, and every corporation in America knows that irrelevance is a slow march toward death for them,” Sylvia says. “Everybody—from Coke to Windex to Elmer’s Glue—knew that if they didn’t change, they would die. Down the road, the church needs to wake up to that.”
Alongside his ministry at the Springs, Sylvia directs NEXT Churches and works with Intentional Churches, offering guidance and mentorship in both organizations.
Sylvia is also enthusiastic about keeping up with the latest changes in the church world. He says the Internet allows him to learn from other churches without leaving his desk. Sylvia delights in scouring the web for insights on how to further develop his ministry. “I tell our church all the time: We signed up to be God’s R&D department a long time ago,” he says. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to reach people far from God, and we’re always going to be pushing the envelope.”