Mike Santiago Elected to Executive Presbytery
Michael J. Santiago was recently elected to the General Council of the Assemblies of God's Executive Presbytery, representing ordained ministers under 40 years of age.
Mike and his wife, Ashton, both 36, started Focus Church Assembly of God in Raleigh, N.C., as a Bible study in their living room. At the time, they were 24 years old and had three children in diapers, and Santiago was supporting them by working at Panera Bread.
Twelve years later, Focus Church draws 1,400 people on a weekend at three different campuses, and Santiago is now helping other pastors grow their churches to a sustainable level through an effort called “Break200.”
“The main thing is developing a growth mindset in the lead pastor,” Santiago says. “He has to be able to see the church larger than it currently is. Second is establishing a healthy leadership team. Then we get into specifics of how to fix the Sunday service, how to go more contemporary and use the internet more effectively with a live stream and social media.”
Santiago launched Break200 as an online community, and it soon turned into a sold-out conference two years running. Santiago partners closely with the Church Multiplication Network (CMN) to train church planters to grow their churches to what he calls “a sustainable size.”
“Two hundred isn’t a magic number, but a lot of guys under 200 have to be bi-vocational,” Santiago says. “When you are over the 200 barrier, it enables you to go full-time with the church, and enables the church to make a bigger difference in the community because the pastor’s attention is on the church.”
Santiago comes from several generations of AG missionaries and pastors and grew up overseas where his parents served as missionaries.
He and Ashton met at age 14 in the youth group at Sun Coast Cathedral AG in St. Petersburg, Florida, when Santiago’s family was on furlough. They married at 19 and were serving as youth pastors at Wekiwa AG, now One Church Orlando, when they felt a strong call to plant a church in Raleigh, a city foreign to both of them.
“We felt such a burden when we came to visit the first time,” Santiago says. “We would drive around and couldn’t stop crying.”
The Santiagos and a small team passed out flyers in department store parking lots and gave away 10,000 frozen treates at community fireworks shows one July to attract attention. They chose to plant the church in the growing suburb of Apex which is now the location of their west campus. Focus also has campuses in Garner and East Raleigh.
“We drew a lot of younger families looking for a fresh start, college students, and people looking to be part of something they could see take shape,” Santiago says.
Ashton, who had placed nationally in the Fine Arts Festival, led the worship ministry, as she still does. Santiago preaches what he calls “fiery, passionate” messages and is “Pentecostal through and through,” he says.
But the popularity of the Break200 effort has been “the biggest surprise of my life,” he says. “It is officially my full-time job. I dedicate myself to making sure churches are growing.”
Break200’s online community counts 400 subscribers. Its video library, available only to subscribers, offers more than 150 training videos aimed at answering common questions about building and operating a healthy church.
“A lot of guys lack practical how-tos,” says Santiago. “The videos are practical: How do I follow up with a first-time guest and not seem weird? We teach them how to make kids’ ministry safer, cleaner, more fun. Here’s how we onboard kids’ ministry volunteers. How to greet a new family when they come to check in. How to change the order of your service to make it seem more efficient and less long.”
The most popular training, online and at the conference, is Santiago’s “Party with the Pastor,” which shows leaders how to host an effective gathering with newcomers, how to “cast vision for people who are kicking the tires,” and using language that compels people to stay.
Tyler Harris, 33, and wife Kayla, 32, lead Awaken Church Assembly of God in Cartersville, Georgia, 40 miles north of Atlanta. They launched in 2022 through CMN and were drawing more than 60 people per week — but Harris felt there were supposed to be more. He messaged Santiago on social media, then came to the first Break200 conference.
“It was the most beneficial conference we have ever been to,” Harris says. “They gave us a very specific plan and said, ‘Try this. See if it works.’”
The Harrises started hosting monthly Parties with the Pastor, which they limited to 10 minutes and a brief description of their background and approach to ministry, followed the next week by Serve 101 to present ways people could immediately begin serving.
“The principle that Mike instilled, as basic as it is, is that if your team grows, your church will grow,” Harris says. “Rather than try to get more people in the seats, we focused on creating more positions and places for people to serve.”
Within six months of the conference, Awaken was drawing 150 people per week and hit 200 people five or six times in 2023.
“It was literally just running that play,” says Harris.
Harris is now one of Santiago’s coaching clients and talks to him weekly. The church is expanding its leased space to accommodate its growth.
“The thing that separates Mike from other guys walking at the same level is that his heart is for guys in churches of this size,” Harris says. “He’s not trying to get in the green rooms of churches of 2,000. He’s trying to help guys with 20 get to 200, and guys at 200 get to 500. He wants to help you build a structure for growth, and that’s what he does through Break 200.”
This genuine passion for the local church is one reason he was nominated to fill an open position on the Executive Presbytery.
During the bi-annual meeting of the general council of the Assemblies of God, which convened in August of 2023 in Columbus, Ohio, Melissa J. Alfaro was elected to serve as the ordained female executive presbyter.
Having served as the executive presbyter representing ordained ministers under 40 years of age for the past six years, Alfaro’s election to her new position left a vacancy.
On October 4, 2023, General Secretary Donna Barret announced that the General Presbytery had elected Santiago to fill that seat.
In an online announcement, Alfaro expressed her excitement regarding Santiago’s appointment and thanked her fellow “under-40” pastors and ministry leaders for their “prayers, encouragement, engagement, and collaboration” during her time as their voice within the Executive Presbytery.
As a third-generation Assemblies of God minister, Santiago has a rich history with the Fellowship and a heart for shepherding others, as demonstrated in his Break200 effort.
Santiago will step into his new executive presbytery role in November as Alfaro transitions to a new representative position within the same governing body.