[Blog] Parachuting into the Palace

blog Nov 24, 2021

            Long before it became a trendy marketing term, “influencer” was a marketplace vision for Ashley Evans. So much so that, in 2004 he created the Influencers Conference for marketplace leaders.  A few years later the Australian pastor renamed the congregation he led in Adelaide: Paradise Community Church became Influencers Church (Global).

            “You’re just as important as a marketplace influencer as you are if you’re a pastor,” he says of the change in identity. “So, let’s stop trying to take all those marketplace people and make them pastors or church leaders. Let’s get behind them.”

            Now leading Influencers’ global expansion from Atlanta, where there are four campuses (adding to the six Down Under), Evans sees his role as being a 21st century Mordecai, challenging and training “Esthers” to take advantage of their positions of influence just as she did in the Old Testament—taking a risk that was lifesaving for others.

Esther, Daniel and Joseph were three of the most influential people in the Bible, he suggests, “all operating in secular systems: Daniel profoundly influenced four kings, Esther saved her nation and Joseph’s business acumen turned Egypt into a world power.”

            The seeds of Evans’ focus were sown back in the 70s, when he watched well-meaning Christians marching for causes without seeing any impact. “I’m very pragmatic,” Evans says. “What works? So I came to a conclusion: let’s parachute Esther into the palace.”

            Since then, this emphasis on quiet influence has made a significant impact in several areas of Australian life, from entertainment to politics. Guy Sebastian, a member of the church’s worship team, won the first Australian Idol in 2003 and went on to a bestselling career. Evans’ wife, Jane, created the popular bU fashion show which has been running for 20 years.

Perhaps most significantly, Evans played an unheralded role as the co-founder of the conservative Family First political party, which had national influence in Australian politics between 2002 and 2017 and was recently relaunched.


The end goal

             The kind of below-the-surface approach he advocates means that other people may get the credit for things you may help initiate, but that’s fine with Evans who, despite his outgoing demeanor, admits to being “a reformed shy person.” In fact, overcoming his fears led to his first book, No More Fear: Break the Power of Intimidation In 40 Days. Working behind the scenes suits him, because he doesn’t need the limelight. “I don’t need to stand on the biggest stages,” he says. “It’s more about the end goal.”   

            Making inroads in areas like entertainment and government is important, he believes, because the church has for too long had too narrow a view of its mission. “Churches often just go after the poor, which is great, but what about the purveyors of culture, who is going after them?   We should be the church of the poor, the rich and everybody in-between, the church of the politicians, the church of the unemployed, the church of everybody. The kingdom of God is a variety of people.”

            Part of having marketplace impact and influence involves changing people’s perception of the church, he believes. Everything he saw on television about church was “a funeral or a scandal,” while churches had only two basic messages: “‘Hurting? God cares’ or ‘You’re all going to hell.’” Wanting to change that, the church created a lifestyle ad celebrating “The Life You Always Wanted.” Over the next four years, positive name brand recognition of the church in Adelaide went from 3% to 96%.

            There were other creative moves, like a series Evans taught on “The Spiritual Power of Sex” (when he first preached the series on arriving in the United States, the local Christian radio station wouldn’t play the ads). It wasn’t just about being provocative for the sake of it. “It is about changing people’s perceptions of the church,” he says. “It’s about letting people know that the church has authentic answers to the authentic questions of life.” 


Church without walls

            None of what Evans says should be taken in any way as devaluing the importance of the church. It’s the place where marketplace people are fueled and fed to pursue their vision, he says. “I’ve got to be connected to a life-giving church because that’s what keeps me correctly aligned. Church is like going to the chiropractor; it irons out the kinks, puts me back in order.

            “Any influencer that is not going to a life-giving church goes off track, they really do, because the church is God’s central infusion point of truth and theology in order to outwork a life of peace in an evil world.”   

            He also believes it’s important for believers in the marketplace to not lose sight of why they are there. While he welcomes the general emphasis on humanitarian efforts and social impact in the business world, he says that such “good deeds” need to be combined with “a God message: In Matthew 5, Jesus said that when people see you do good deeds it shines a light on who God is and prompts them to acknowledge him.” That Great Commission emphasis is steeped in him, having spent his early years as a missionaries’ kid in Papua New Guinea.

            While advocating a low-key but intentional approach to influence in the wider world, Evans also wants to see churches with a higher community profile, albeit one that overturns traditional practice. He laments that many church buildings are closed Monday through Saturday (often because they don’t have the money to keep the doors open). That’s a double negative, he says—a statement to everyone passing by that churches are irrelevant to everyday life, and a terrible return on investment that keeps money from flowing to missions and church planting.

            Church buildings prophesy to the world, he believes, but what are they saying? “If the church only offers church services, it will never be the center of the community. We are supposed to be the church without walls, the center of town, but we are not going to be if all we offer is church services. The gospel is about influencing the marketplace and sharing the gospel.”

            So what if the church also provided child care and health care services and other amenities such as workspaces and a cafe? Then people would come to the church, maybe consider attending a service—and help resource the building through their various fees.


Mortgage-neutral churches

            Some churches have been doing some of this sort of multipurpose thing for a long time—daycare, gyms and the like—Evans acknowledges, but more as a “bolt-on” to the existing church, he says. He has something more ambitious in mind and has recently bought a 62,000-square-feet property on 11 acres near Atlanta’s popular Avalon mall. In addition to a church space that doubles as an events center, there is a daycare center and shared office space. “The difference with this model is for every dollar that we pay in mortgage, we earn a dollar,” he says.

            It’s an example of what he calls the mortgage-neutral environment. “How do I create a building that pays for itself? I build it bigger than what I want. I put in there symbiotic businesses that work with our mission.

            “We want to help people medically, educationally, socially. So let’s build things that on their own merit, on their own days Monday through Friday, are for-profit businesses and let’s get those things to pay for a building that becomes the central place in the center of town that people want to come to.”

            With a second similar development recently launched in Duluth, Evans wants to establish dozens of similar mortgage-neutral churches in the U.S. and Australia in the years to come. Not only can they make an impact here, they can help free up money for church planting in other parts of the world, he notes.

            There’s another benefit, he suggests with a word of caution. He believes the time could be coming when churches will be told they can’t preach biblically about issues like marriage if they want to keep their tax-exempt status. “I want to be in a position whereby I don’t need the state’s help on the charity status to be able to spread the gospel across the world.”