Archives For Church Planting

14DavidFitch-420For our 16th Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast, I sat down for a conversation with David Fitch. David teaches at Northern Seminary in Chicago, hosts the Theology on Mission Podcast, and is the author of Prodigal Christianity and the Great Giveaway.

He’s pastored and participated in many church plants including Life on the Vine Christian Community a missional church in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Most recently he and his family have joined Peace of Christ Church, Westmont, a church planted from Life on the Vine. He writes on the issues the local church must face in Mission including cultural engagement, leadership and theology. His theology combines Neo-Anabaptist streams of thought, his commitments to evangelicalism and his love for political theory.

Here, David talks about the challenges of the Church’s present post Christendom context, and he and Jason share their mutual affection for both Fleming Rutledge and Stanley Hauerwas.

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aldersgate-whitebgI’m fortunate to be working with an inspiring team of about 45 people working to begin a satellite congregation south of us in the Kingstowne area of Northern Virginia.

We look to begin with a few events in Advent for the community followed by a Christmas Eve service. Our official launch is penciled for the first weekend of March.

Only God knows what the future has in store but already this process has shown us that it’s healthy to have goals so large they require God’s help.

Part of our work has been to create a website and online presence by which we can communicate our vision and engage people on the web. The logo is meant to recall John Wesley’s original ‘Aldersgate experience’ in which a fresh hearing of the gospel set his heart on fire.

Here’s the new website for Aldersgate: Kingstowne. It’s still in process and kinks still need to get worked out before we can merge our existing site with the new one, but we’re excited for what we’ll be able to do with it.

 

small-town-churchI took All Saints weekend off this year and, rather than worship at another church somewhere, I spent the Sabbath doing what 70% of Americans do every Sabbath.

Something else.

To some of you, I realize, the idea of a pastor- a professional Christian- skipping Sunday service sounds scandalous. To the pastors out there, I bet, it will sound…grounding. A cold, sobering dose of reality.

I went running instead of worshipping, which my congregation will point out requires minimal wardrobe change from my typical Sunday morning attire.

Over the course of a moderately long run, I must’ve jogged past 2 dozen churches.

None of them had more than 3 dozen cars in their parking lots.

All of them had messages on their signs out front that said ‘All Welcome.’

Many of them also had some insiderish-churchy quip on their signs that effectively added: ‘But not you.’

The statistic will be familiar to those in my denomination: Most United Methodist churches worship less than 100 on a Sunday morning, a number that increasingly is too small to sustain a full-time pastorate.

Of course some will argue that relationships or ‘faithfulness’ matter not numbers.

I’ve always found that to be a curiously unWesleyan perspective; John Wesley, OCD as he was, measured everything.

Numbers matter to God, I believe, because people matter to God.

As we work towards launching a new church in my own setting, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what strategies and practices make a church nimble about growth.

Carey Nieuwhof shares this reflection on why most churches never break the 200 mark:

Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to  grow.

I get that. That’s the mission of the church. Every single day, I want our church to become more effective in reaching one more person with the hope that’s in Christ.

So why is it that most churches never break the 200 attendance mark?

It’s not:

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

Let’s just assume you have a solid mission, theology and heart to reach people.

You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

 


They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Think about it.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything, Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the Director of Marketing? He’s at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.

But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There’s a produce manager, and people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

So what’s the translation to church world?

Here are 8 reasons churches who want to grow end up staying small:

1. The pastor is the primary caregiver. Honestly, if you just push past this one issue, you will have made a ton of progress. When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding, funeral and make regular house calls, he or she becomes incapable of doing other things. That model just doesn’t scale. If you’re good at it, you’ll grow the church to 200 people and then disappoint people when you can’t get to every event any more. Or you’ll just burn out. It creates false expectations and so many people get hurt in the process. Although it’s 20 years old, this is still the best book I know on the subject. The answer, by the way, is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

2. The leaders lacks a strategy. Many churches today are clear on mission and vision. What most lack is a widely shared and agreed-upon strategy. You vision and mission answers the why and what of your organization. Your strategy answers how. And how is critical. Spend time working through you strategy. Be clear on how you will accomplish your mission and don’t rest until the mission, vision and strategy reside in every single volunteer and leader.

3. True leaders aren’t leading. In every church, there are people who hold the position of leadership and then there are people who are truly leaders (who may not hold any position in your church). Release people who hold titles but aren’t advancing the mission and hand the job over to real leaders. Look for people who have a track record of handling responsibility in other areas of life and give them the job of leading the church into the future with you. If you actually have leaders leading, it will make a huge difference.

4. Volunteers are unempowered. Sure, small churches may not have the budget to hire other staff, but you have people. Once you have identified true leaders, and once you’re clear on your mission vision and strategy, you need to release people to accomplish it. Try to do it all yourself and you will burn out, leave or simply be ineffective.  Empower volunteers around an aligned strategy and you will likely begin to see progress.

5. The governance team micromanages. If you need permission every time you need to buy paper towels or repaint an office, you have a governance issue. Most boards who micromanage do so because that’s where most people simply default. You need a board who guards the mission and vision and empowers the team to accomplish it and then gets out of the way. This post on governance from Jeff Brodie is gold.

6. Too many meetings. I led a church with a grand total of 50 people in attendance. We had 16 elders. Overall, the church was in evening meetings 2-3 times a week. Why on earth would a church that small need to meet that often? I eventually repurposed most of those meetings to become meetings about vision and reorganization. We also cut the number of elders down. Now, although we have a much bigger church, I’m only out one or two nights a week (and then mostly for small group). If you’re going to meet, meet on purpose for the future.  Free up your time so you and your team can accomplish something significant.

7. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. Activity does not equal accomplishment. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re being effective. If you check into most small churches (remember, I was there…I’m not judging, just being honest), there are a lot of programs that accomplish little and lead nowhere. Stop them. Yes people will be mad. Even have the courage to cut some good programs. Good is the enemy of great. Then go out and do a few great things.

8. The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody. Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people. Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don’t do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end. Eventually, many of them will thank you. And the rest? Honestly, they’ll probably go to another church that isn’t reaching many people either.

I realize the diagnosis can sound a little harsh, but we have a pretty deep problem on our hands. And radical problems demand radical solutions.

 

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The following is a small group reflection written for our church planting planning team. 

“I would rather be with someone who is real than someone who is good.”

– Philip Yancey

During the 2006 campaign, ‘political correspondents’ for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart purported to provide election coverage from locations all over the state of Ohio. You can see a clip here.

From different towns and cities and polling places.

Every correspondent though reported their story while standing in front of an Applebee’s restaurant.

Each exactly like the other.

As usual, the Daily Show skewered something very true about our culture.

Just think of the homogeneity of our shopping centers. When there is a combination of Barnes and Noble, Home Depot, Target and Panera everywhere, it begins to feel as though every place is the same, or that no place is unique. Or real.

What we experience in shopping centers isn’t that different in kind from the fake reality we see on television.

What we see on television isn’t that much different from the abundance of fake foods sold in our supermarkets.

What we find in our supermarkets is but another example of the digitally altered and perfected music we hear on the radio or the false sounds we hear from politicians.

On many levels, ours is an inauthentic culture:

the artificial is everywhere and everywhere it is promised to trump the real thing.

In such a culture, Christians are called to be a People who are honest, genuine and real.

There’s a story in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. It’s the last in a series of 3 ‘Kingdom moments’ in which Jesus non-violently upends the status quo. Jesus calls Simon, who is a tax collector and, as such, is a Jew who makes his living by colluding with the Roman Empire.

Tax collectors were sinners. Outcasts. And even among the ‘ochlos’ (the despised and outcast poor) tax collectors were the most loathed of people.

Not only does Jesus call Simon to follow him, Jesus promptly eats and drinks with Simon and other sinners. Mark’s telling of Jesus eating and drinking with sinners includes the curious phrase “on his left elbow.”

That is, Jesus is reclining at the dinner table on his left elbow.

The left elbow was a 1st century colloquialism for being casual with another.

For being real.

Authentic.

Not a high and mighty Messiah, Jesus was authentically himself with sinners.

And by giving them his left elbow, Jesus gave sinners the right signal to be authentic themselves.

Incidentally, it’s when Jesus and his followers are being real around a table that Mark uses the word ‘disciple’ for the first time.

The postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard, commenting on the fake reality of contemporary culture, writes that what is needed is a “substituting the signs of the real for the real.”

There’s both a need and a hunger, he argues, for a reality that’s really real. He’s right. From farmers’ markets to home-brewed beer to handmade clothes sold on Etsy, people crave the authentic.

What’s more, today people are so numbed to the artificiality marketed to us from every angle that increasingly they have what Ernest Hemingway called a “a built-in, shockproof, bullshit detector.”

[What things in or about church would set off Hemingway’s BS Detector?]

Missiologist Michael Frost says this is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Church.

On the one hand, more and more people long for authentic relationships and experiences, communities of truthfulness and vulnerability.

On the other hand, this is exactly what many churches tend to avoid.

Churches too, Frost points out, peddle the artificial and inauthentic. Often churches are not places where folks recline on their left elbow with each other, sharing what’s really going on in their lives.

Churches are sometimes guilty, Frost says, of painting the Christian life in the sweet, sentimental glow of a Norman Rockwell painting. When Norman Rockwell fails to match people’s reality (because, admit it, it does for all of us), churches can end up alienating people.

Which leads to an interesting question:

[What are the things you can’t do, say or express in Church that you do in other everyday activities in your life?]

Which is just another way of asking:

[Why do Christians so often value respectability over authenticity?]

It’s important that we have an answer to that last question.

As Frost writes, in our increasingly post-Christendom culture Christians need to earn the right to be reheard:

“Is it too simplistic to say that we earn that right through our authentic lifestyles?

In a culture yearning for authenticity- the real- the pressure is on us in the Christian community now more than ever to put our time and our money where our mouth is and live what we preach.”

We’re called, in other words, not to be perfect Christians.

We’re called to be genuine people.

Who are trying to follow Jesus.

Which is good news.

Because if authenticity is what more and more people hunger after, then they’re searching not for the former but for the latter.

[What does a community of authenticity look like?

What’s the congregational equivalent of a farmers’ market?]

[What might it mean to practice an organic, homebrewed faith?]

 

 

 

Felidae-and-Watership-Down-the-duncanlovr-club-13678772-1024-768The following is a small group reflection for our church-planting team:

Richard Adam’s beloved novel, Watership Down, tells the story of a warren of rabbits setting out to make their home in a new place.

That’s right, I’m telling you a story about a story about rabbits.

Bear with me.

Fiver, a small, nervous rabbit, develops what can only be called a messianic intuition, convinced by a hunch that something dreadful is about to befall their Sandleford warren.

Fiver confides his fear to his brother, Hazel, and together they attempt to warn the elder Chief Rabbit, Threarah. Their ministrations prove unsuccessful, and Fiver and Hazel are dismissed as doomsayers.

Marginalized for their belief, the brother rabbits decide to leave their warren. They are joined in their journey by other rabbits like: Dandelion, Pipkin, Hawbit, Blackberry, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Bigwig, and Silver.

As the group departs, their former home is destroyed under a housing developer’s bulldozer.

They set out to make the long journey to what will be the new location for their community: Watership Down. Along the way, the group of rabbits encounter challenges rabbits seldom encounter. They must cross a stream, navigate an open road, sneak through a fox-infested bean field.

Never having made a community in a new location, their challenges go against the grain  of everything rabbits know about being rabbits. They long to stop running, to dig deep down into the earth and stay in one place.

How do the rabbits tackle the obstacles and challenges in their path?

The answer turns out to be a surprising one.

The one thing that unites the rabbits and fills them with hope and courage are their stories- the stories their parents told them, the stories of their past, the stories about their forebears.

[What stories did you learn in your family? Growing up, what stories about your family were you taught?]

The rabbits of Adams’ novel tell especially stories of the clever rabbit hero, El- ahrairah.

Yep, the ‘El’ in the hero’s name is neither accidental nor coincidental. This is meant to be a primal, transcendent story.

With fur and floppy ears.

The first story they learned and the first story they tell is the ‘Blessing of El-ahrairah.’ In it, Frith, the god of the rabbits, allocates gifts and attributes to each species. Frith gives cleverness to the foxes, for example, and sight to the cats.

According to the story, El-ahrairah is so distracted with dining, dancing and mating that he misses out on the best gifts so Frith, realizing rabbits will now be at the mercy of other animals, gives El-ahrairah the gift of strong, hind legs.

Frith tells El-ahrairah, “be cunning and full of tricks and your people will never be destroyed.”

Fiver, Hazel and their community of rabbits hear in such a story their reason for being.

It’s their creation story and their ground of hope.

As they set out to make their lives in a new place, this story reminds them of why they exist at all and how they are to practice and embody that existence.

More than simply “explaining” why rabbits have strong legs, the story illuminates the rabbit’s task in life: to live in the world by trusting their stories and speed.

And each other.

As the rabbits make their journey to their new location, they’re frequently confronted by a challenge and, each time, they stop and seek a way forward by narrating their core stories of El-ahrairah.

The stories remind them of their identity and their purpose.

New places, in other words, point out the importance of old stories.

So not only have I just told you a story about a story about rabbits, I’m now going to tell you that floppy-eared story is actually a bible story.

Yep. A bible story starring rabbits.

Almost 600 years before Jesus was born, Judah’s King Josiah died just as the Babylonian Empire was ascending in power. After a long siege, Babylon finally razed the city of Jerusalem in 587 and topped that destruction with the added humiliation of exiling Israel’s citizens to live in a foreign land.

In a new place.

In that new place, the Jews were allowed to live in their own communities. They were free to build homes, earn a living, practice their own customs and religion.

They just couldn’t return home.

Much like rabbits, making their way in a new place, God’s People turned to their stories.

As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says, exiles are driven back to rediscover their most shaping memories and to practice their most critical commitments.

In a new location and the challenges it brings, Brueggemann writes, the stakes are too high. It’s not surprising then that you would turn to the elemental stories to guide your actions and let the unessential fall by the wayside.

As theologian Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Watership Down, observes:

“…all new communities must remind themselves of their origin.

A people are formed by a story which places their history in the texture of the world.

Such stories make the world our home by providing us with the skills to negotiate the dangers in our environment…”

[What scripture story or stories have helped you ‘negotiate’ a particularly challenging moment in your life?]

New communities need to remember their core stories.

Those core stories remind new communities how they’re to negotiate the challenges of their new environment.

You see, a story about rabbits is really a story about God’s People.

It’s a story about the exile.

But it’s a story about any new faith community too.

Having made the long journey to a new location in Babylon, the Jews turned to their stories of ‘journey’ for identity and purpose. The stories of Abraham and Sarah’s journey into an unknown future, of Moses’ long journey in the wilderness, of Joseph’s journey away from home and back again and of Jacob’s journey away from God and back again- in exile those stories reminded Israel what it meant to trust God alone.

Not El-ahrairah but Elohim.

What about us?

Setting off for a new location.

Working to plant a new community.

Facing new challenges.

In Brueggemann’s terms:

What are the most important memories to which we should turn on our journey?

What are the promises given in those memories which we should practice during our journey and even after we’ve arrived?

[Which stories of scripture do you think are essential for our identity and purpose?]

While we don’t have a floppy-eared forebear, we do have Jesus.

The memories to which we turn for identity, purpose and guidance are the stories of Jesus. And the stories about Jesus.

And the promise we should practice- well, the first promise at least- is the promise found in the Church’s very first memory of Jesus.

The “Incarnation.”

Literally, God taking on ‘carne.’

The Holy becoming Meat.

Flesh.

As Paul puts it, quoting an ancient hymn:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Very often the Incarnation is a doctrine employed to ‘prove’ Jesus’ divinity. It’s a dogma that reminds us that ‘this Jesus is really God.’

But like much in theology, the inverse is true too.

The Incarnation is a way of reminding us that ‘Because God is Jesus, Jesus is really human.’

To make it plain: Jesus is how God decides to incarnate what it means to be human.

Jesus is our model for genuine, God-intended-designed-humanness.

Jesus is the prototype.

And here’s the stop-you-in-your-tracks kicker: God was in Jesus, embodying and modeling what it means to be human, a good 30 years before Jesus began his official ministry.

That is, God was in Jesus for 30 years before anyone took notice that Jesus was in any way unique.

That is, God was in Jesus in such ordinary, everyday ways no one noticed that this Jesus was actually God.

Like many things in theology, the inverse is also true.

God was in Jesus in many ordinary, everyday ways that were true even if they escaped people’s official notice.

Allow me an ‘ergo.’

Ergo, God is present in the many ordinary, everyday things we do in Jesus’ name.

[What is one ordinary way you’ve experience God’s presence through another?]

If one of our most elemental memories as Christians is that God was incarnate in and as Christ, then one of the first promises we’re called to practice together:

We promise to be incarnational. 

We pledge to use our ‘flesh’ to convey the love and presence of God in the most ordinary, everyday things we do.

With others. And with ourselves.

You see, according to the logic of incarnation, it’s not that ‘worship’ is where the God stuff happens. Rather, all stuff is where God happens…if we take time to notice and name it. Meetings, small groups, passing out bulletins, welcoming a visitor are all acts- potentially- of worship. A handshake to a newcomer is- potentially- as sacramental as bread and wine.

Incarnation means we treat everyone and everything we do as holy, as receptacles of God’s presence but, even more so, Incarnation means we take Jesus’ way of life as the blueprint for how we are to embody God to, for and with another.

And when you look to what Jesus would do:

You find a willingness to relinquish all desires and interests in the service of others.

You find an openness to go where people are rather than wait for them to come to you.

You find an awareness that the ‘mode’ of ministry is every bit as important as the ministry’s ‘message.’

As Michael Frost outlines it, Incarnational Christianity entails:

 

An active and open sharing of our lives with the community and the invitation to others share their lives with us. Incarnation is the opposite of putting up facades.

An employment of the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus. Jesus used common speech and stories that were accessible to all. He seldom used jargon, technical terms or insider speech. To be incarnational means we presume the presence of outsiders, newcomers and unbelievers.

A preparedness to go to people, not expecting them to come to you. Jesus was unique among ancient rabbis. He didn’t wait for people to come to him. He went out and sought and called followers. To be incarnational is to be invitational in everything we do as Christian community, which of course requires we plan so as to make it easy to invite others.

A confidence that the Gospel can be communicated in ordinary ways, through acts of servanthood, loving relationships and good deeds. Volunteer activities are not means to the ‘real ministry’ of the Church; they are ministry and worship in and of themselves.

Michael Frost clarifies Incarnational Christianity further by stressing how Christians can learn from the success of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls ‘third places.’

Rather than the home or work, third places are those additional spaces in people’s lives where they can easily interact, make friends, discuss issues and develop community.

It’s in third places, says Ray Oldenburg, that we let our guard down and allow people to know us more fully, to share and discuss subjects that truly matter. Starbucks or the traditional British pub are obvious examples of ‘3rd places.’

[What are your 3rd places? Where are you most ‘you?’

What ‘works’ about that 3rd place?]

Needless to say, 3rd places become even more important for Christian communities who do not have a building of their own.

For Christians to be incarnational, Frost argues, they must relearn how to engage others- as Christians- in the 3rd places in their lives. To compartmentalize our faith into something we do in private, in a sanctuary, on a Sunday morning goes against the very essence of incarnation.

Frost also suggests that Incarnational Christianity requires churches to learn from the success of 3rd places in our culture.

 

[Why is it, for example, that a 3rd place like Starbucks is often better than the Church at developing community and connection?]

[Or perhaps a better way of putting the question: what gets in the way of Church being a viable 3rd place for more people?]

 

 

 

 

 

 

BELIEFS-2-articleInlineWe’ve begun the church planting process at my church after a long season of discernment and decision so I thought I would point you to this story from the NY Times about a unique church in Austin, Vox Veniae. It’s Latin for ‘voice of forgiveness.’ It’s unique for the diversity within their congregation, no small feat for any Protestant church.

Check out the church’s website for a better look. And check out the original article to watch a video of the church.

Last Sunday at Vox Veniae, a 200-person church in working-class East Austin, the volunteer baristas showed up an hour before worship services to make locally sourced coffee in the vaunted Chemex system, beloved of connoisseurs. To enhance the java-snob appeal, no milk or sugar was provided. “It’s a purist thing,” one barista said.

“Keep Austin Weird,” the local slogan goes. And the approach to coffee is just one unusual feature of this rule-breaking church in the notably alternative Texas capital.

There’s the building, for example. The church meets in what used to be Chester’s, an after-hours B.Y.O.B. club that shut down in 2007 after a fatal shooting close by. Members of Vox, as the church is known, cleaned up the building, christened it Space 12 and made it a hub for Austin-style activity. It’s their church hall, yes, but also a Wi-Fi-equipped space that freelancers can use for a small daily donation; a yoga studio; an art gallery; and the home of the Inside Books Project, which sends books to prison inmates.

But what’s really unexpected about Vox, to anyone who knows American Protestantism, is that what began as a church for Chinese-Americans quickly became multiracial. Last Sunday morning, whites were in the majority, and in addition to Asian-Americans, there were Latinos and African-Americans in the pews — or, rather, the metal folding chairs around the small stage where a six-piece band played before the pastor, the Rev. Gideon Tsang, delivered his sermon.

In a country that is growing more racially diverse, and in an evangelical movement that is becoming more politically diverse, Vox Veniae, which is Latin for “voice of forgiveness,” may be, as Jesus said, a sign of the times.

Racially diverse churches are often led by white pastors who recruit in minority communities, usually by hiring nonwhite assistant pastors. It is less common to see an ethnic church attract whites. It may be that white people avoid churches where at first they will be outnumbered. Or perhaps the ethnic churches’ worship styles feel alien (especially if prayers and sermons are in a foreign language). Whatever the reason, white churches sometimes succeed in drawing minority worshipers, but minority churches rarely attract white people.

Mr. Tsang sports arm tattoos and the modish, buzzed-on-the-sides, long-on-top haircut that many young men who request it call “the Hitler Youth.” He was raised in Toronto, the son of a Chinese-Canadian pastor of an ethnic church. In 2006, he started Vox Veniae as an independent planting of the Austin Chinese Church, a larger church that wanted a mission to young people, especially University of Texas students. In 2007, the church opened Space 12, and in 2009, it moved its worship services there. Along the way, it began to draw older people. And whiter people.

“The average age when we started was 22,” Mr. Tsang said. “Today, the average age is 27, 28.” Last Sunday, I sat behind a woman who must have been in her 60s. When she had trouble reading the passage from I Corinthians on the monitor above, her neighbor, about 40 years younger, whispered the words in her ear.

In 2011, Vox Veniae affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church, a large North American denomination founded in the 19th century by Swedish immigrants. This means that Vox Veniae is a multiracial church that began with Chinese roots and has recently acquired Swedish Lutheran roots.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, the Covenant made some collective decisions to be more intentional about becoming more multiethnic in every area of our life together,” Garth Bolinder, a regional superintendent for the denomination, said in an e-mail. It began to admit more non-Swedish churches, including black and Latino congregations. When Mr. Tsang was looking for institutional support for Vox Veniae, a friend suggested the Evangelical Covenant.

At first, Mr. Tsang resisted, believing his church was “so specific to Austin and the culture of Austin.” Ultimately, he met with Evangelical Covenant pastors, and he decided it was a good fit. “We think it’s healthy to be connected to something bigger,” Mr. Tsang said.

That Swedish/Chinese mingling is a significant innovation in American church history, but it’s not what brings new worshipers to Space 12 on Sunday mornings. Hannah Perez, 24, works for Cuvee Coffee, the local roaster whose beans she was putting through the Chemex. She grew up in a Methodist church in Indiana, and her husband’s church was Hispanic Pentecostal. But when they moved to Austin, they joined Vox.

“We felt like: ‘Wow, this is awesome. It feels like hanging out in someone’s house,’ ” Ms. Perez said.

Space 12 is one large room, with comfortable chairs scattered about. Mr. Tsang preaches from a stool, like a slam poet intimate with his audience. The books for the prisoner project line one wall. There are no crosses, although “Resurrection” is spelled in red thread strung between nails.

When Leena Pacak, now 33, was growing up, her parents were nonobservant Hindus. Ms. Pacak was baptized when she was 24, and met her husband, also now a Vox member, at a church in Chicago. She said that before becoming a Christian, she had to overcome negative impressions about evangelicals, who always seemed to be intertwined with the religious right.

“My impression from the community is there is a real mix, including a lot of liberal-thinking people here,” said Ms. Pacak, a midwifery student.

Her husband, Cole, said Vox felt freer than other churches on issues like abortion and gay marriage, poverty and Middle Eastern politics. “Vox is a church where no one political viewpoint is pushed, which is great,” Mr. Pacak said.

Some hope that this kind of postpolitical, postracial congregation is the future of evangelicalism. But Mr. Tsang has complicated feelings about his success. He is, after all, the son of an immigrant church, whose rich tradition is joyously obliterated in this diverse congregation.

“I’m struggling to have a better understanding of my own Christian heritage, and of my own Chinese Christian heritage,” he said.

But James Miller, an Arkansas native and one of three white musicians in the band that played last Sunday, pointed out that Austin Chinese Church, when it planted Vox, wanted it to be “an Austin-centered church.” If the original idea was to provide English-language services for Americanized Chinese, it was perhaps inevitable that, with a preacher like Mr. Tsang, and in a city like Austin, the racial lines would not hold.

“So I figure,” Mr. Miller said, “we’re living out their vision.”

If you were in worship this weekend, you heard that one of our goals for the coming 18 months is to discern whether God’s calling Aldersgate to plant a new faith community. 

Some may wonder, I’m sure, why we’d start a new congregation when there are plenty of churches around all struggling to fill the pews and pay the bills.

Anticipating your questions, I offer you this essay from Tim Keller, the planting pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, a congregation that has since gone on to plant hundreds of churches around the world.

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Why Plant Churches?

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.

The normal response to discussions about church planting is something like this:

A. ‘We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we go off building any new ones.”

B. ‘Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The churchgoing public is a ‘shrinking pie’. A new church here will just take people from churches already hurting and weaken everyone.’

C. ‘Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the ones we have that are just keeping their nose above water. We need better churches, not more churches.’

These statements appear to be ‘common sense’ to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask ‘Why is church planting so crucially important?’ Because–

A. We want to be true to THE BIBLICAL MANDATE

1. Jesus’ essential call was to plant churches. Virtually all the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to ‘make disciples’ but to ‘baptize’. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a ‘new birth’, but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being ‘evangelized’ in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C.Peter Wagner can say, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”1

2. Paul’s whole strategy was to plant urban churches. The greatest missionary in history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5- “appoint elders in every town”). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had ‘fully preached’ the gospel in a region and that he had ‘no more work’ to do there (cf. Romans 15:19,23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: a) that the way to most permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and b) the way to most permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.

Response: ‘But,’ many people say, ‘that was in the beginning. Now the country (at least our country) is filled with churches. Why is church planting important now?” We also plant churches because–

B. We want to be true to THE GREAT COMMISSION. Some facts–

1. New churches best reach a) new generations, b) new residents, and c) new people groups. First (a) younger adults have always been disproportionately found in newer congregations. Long-established congregations develop traditions (such as time of worship, length of service, emotional responsiveness, sermon topics, leadership-style, emotional atmosphere, and thousands of other tiny customs and mores), which reflect the sensibilities of long-time leaders from the older generations who have the influence and money to control the church life. This does not reach younger generations. Second, (b) new residents are almost always reached better by new congregations. In older congregations, it may require tenure of 10 years before you are allowed into places of leadership and influence, but in a new church, new residents tend to have equal power with long-time area residents.

Last, (c) new socio-cultural groups in a community are always reached better by new congregations. For example, if new white-collar commuters move into an area where the older residents were farmers, it is likely that a new church will be more receptive to the myriad of needs of the new residents, while the older churches will continue to be oriented to the original social group. And new racial groups in a community are best reached by a new church that is intentionally multi-ethnic from the start. For example: if an all-Anglo neighborhood becomes 33% Hispanic, a new, deliberately bi-racial church will be far more likely to create ‘cultural space’ for newcomers than will an older church in town. Finally, brand new immigrant groups nearly always can only be reached by churches ministering in their own language. If we wait until a new group is assimilated into American culture enough to come to our church, we will wait for years without reaching out to them.

[Note: Often, a new congregation for a new people-group can be planted within the overall structure of an existing church. It may be a new Sunday service at another time, or a new network of house churches that are connected to a larger, already existing congregation. Nevertheless, though it may technically not be a new independent congregation, it serves the same function.]

In summary, new congregations empower new people and new peoples much more quickly and readily than can older churches. Thus they always have and always will reach them with greater facility than long-established bodies. This means, of course, that church planting is not only for ‘frontier regions’ or ‘pagan’ countries that we are trying to see become Christian. Christian countries will have to maintain vigorous, extensive church planting simply to stay Christian!

2. New churches best reach the unchurched–period. Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-

15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.2 This means that the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.

So though established congregations provide many things that newer churches often cannot, older churches in general will never be able to match the effectiveness of new bodies in reaching people for the kingdom. Why would this be? As a congregation ages, powerful internal institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of its resources and energy toward the concerns of its members and constituents, rather than toward those outside its walls. This is natural and to a great degree desirable. Older congregations therefore have a stability and steadiness that many people thrive on and need. This does not mean that established churches cannot win new people. In fact, many non-Christians will only be reached by churches with long roots in the community and the trappings of stability and respectability.

However, new congregations, in general, are forced to focus on the needs of its non-members, simply in order to get off the ground. So many of its leaders have come very recently from the ranks of the un-churched, that the congregation is far more sensitive to the concerns of the non-believer. Also, in the first two years of our Christian walk, we have far more close, face-to- face relationships with non-Christians than we do later. Thus a congregation filled with people fresh from the ranks of the un-churched will have the power to invite and attract many more non-believers into the events and life of the church than will the members of the typical established body.

What does this mean practically? If we want to reach our city–should we try to renew older congregations to make them more evangelistic, or should we plant lots of new churches? But that question is surely a false either-or dichotomy. We should do both! Nevertheless, all we have been saying proves that, despite the occasional exceptions, the only widescale way to bring in lots of new Christians to the Body of Christ in a permanent way is to plant new churches.

To throw this into relief, imagine Town-A and Town-B and Town-C are the same size, and they each have 100 churches of 100 persons each. But in Town-A, all the churches are over 15 years old, and then the overall number of active Christian churchgoers in that town will be shrinking, even if four or five of the churches get very ‘hot’ and double in attendance. In Town- B, 5 of the churches are under 15 years old, and they along with several older congregations are winning new people to Christ, but this only offsets the normal declines of the older churches. Thus the overall number of active Christian churchgoers in that town will be staying the same. Finally, in Town-C, 30 of the churches are under 15 years old. In this town, the overall number of active Christian churchgoers will be on a path to grow 50% in a generation.3

Response: ‘But,’ many people say, ‘what about all the existing churches that need help? You seem to be ignoring them.’ Not at all. We also plant churches because–

C. We want to continually RENEW THE WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST.

It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole Body of Christ. Why?

1. First, the new churches bring new ideas to the whole Body. There is plenty of resistance to the idea that we need to plant new churches to reach the constant stream of ‘new’ groups and generations and residents. Many congregations insist that all available resources should be used to find ways of helping existing churches reach them. However, there is no better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people groups than by planting new churches. It is the new churches that will have freedom to be innovative and they become the ‘Research and Development’ department for the whole Body in the city. Often the older congregations were too timid to try a particular approach or were absolutely sure it would ‘not work here’. But when the new church in town succeeds wildly with some new method, the other churches eventually take notice and get the courage to try it themselves.

2. Second, new churches are one of the best ways to surface creative, strong leaders for the whole Body. In older congregations, leaders emphasize tradition, tenure, routine, and kinship ties. New congregations, on the other hand, attract a higher percentage of venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation and future orientation. Many of these men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the appearance of these new bodies. Often older churches ‘box out’ many people with strong leadership skills who cannot work in more traditional settings. New churches thus attract and harness many people in the city whose gifts would otherwise not be utilized in the work of the Body. These new leaders benefit the whole city-Body eventually.

3. Third, the new churches challenge other churches to self-examination. The “success” of new churches often challenges older congregations in general to evaluate themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity. Often the growth of the new congregation gives the older churches hope that ‘it can be done’, and may even bring about humility and repentance for defeatist and pessimistic attitudes. Sometimes, new congregations can partner with older churches to mount ministries that neither could do by themselves.

4. Fourth, the new church may be an ‘evangelistic feeder’ for a whole community. The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the new church is very exciting and outward facing but is also very unstable or immature in its leadership. Thus some converts cannot stand the tumultuous changes that regularly come through the new church and they move to an existing church. Sometimes the new church reaches a person for Christ, but the new convert quickly discovers that he or she does not ‘fit’ the socio-economic make up of the new congregation, and gravitates to an established congregation where the customs and culture feels more familiar. Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves, but for the older bodies as well.

Sum: Vigorous church planting is one of the best ways to renew the existing churches of a city, as well as the best single way to grow the whole Body of Christ in a city.

There is one more reason why it is good for the existing churches of the region to initiate or at least support the planting of churches in a given area. We plant churches—

D. As an exercise in KINGDOM-MINDEDNESS

All in all, church planting helps an existing church the best when the new congregation is voluntarily ‘birthed’ by an older ‘mother’ congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders and new ministries and additional members and income ‘washes back’ into the mother church in various ways and strengthens and renews it. Though there is some pain in seeing good friends and some leaders go away to form a new church, the mother church usually experiences a surge of high self-esteem and an influx of new enthusiastic leaders and members.

However, a new church in the community usually confronts churches with a major issue–the issue of ‘kingdom-mindedness’. New churches, as we have seen, draw most of their new members (up to 80%) from the ranks of the unchurched, but they will always attract some people out of existing churches. That is inevitable. At this point, the existing churches, in a sense, have a question posed to them: “Are we going to rejoice in the 80%–the new people that the kingdom has gained through this new church, or are we going to bemoan and resent the three families we lost to it?” In other words, our attitude to new church development is a test of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf, or to the overall health and prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.

Any church that is more upset by their own small losses rather than the kingdoms large gains is betraying its narrow interests. Yet, as we have seen, the benefits of new church planting to older congregations is very great, even if that may not be obvious initially.

SUMMARY

If we briefly glance at the objections to church planting in the introduction, we can now see the false premises beneath the statements. A. Assumes that older congregations can reach newcomers as well as new congregations. But to reach new generations and people groups will require both renewed older churches and lots of new churches. B. Assumes that new congregations will only reach current active churchgoers. But new churches do far better at reaching the unchurched, and thus they are the only way to increase the ‘churchgoing pie’. C. Assumes that new church planting will only discourage older churches. There is a prospect of this, but new churches for a variety of ways, are one of the best ways to renew and revitalize older churches. D. Assumes that new churches only work where the population is growing. Actually, they reach people wherever the population is changing. If new people are coming in to replace former residents, or new groups of people are coming in–even though the net pop figure is stagnant–new churches are needed.

New church planting is the only way that we can be sure we are going to increase the number of believers in a city and one of the best ways to renew the whole Body of Christ. The evidence for this statement is strong–Biblically, sociologically, and historically. In the end, a lack of kingdom-mindedness may simply blind us to all this evidence. We must beware of that.

APPENDIX A- HISTORICAL LESSONS

If all this is true, there should be lots of evidence for these principles in church history–and there is.

In 1820, there was one Christian church for every 875 U.S. residents. But from 1860-1906, U.S. Protestant churches planted one new church for increase of 350 in the population, bringing the ratio by the start of WWI to just 1 church for every 430 persons. In 1906 over a third of all the congregations in the country were less than 25 years old.4 As a result, the percentage of the U.S. population involved in the life of the church rose steadily. For example, in 1776, 17% of the U.S. population was ‘religious adherents’, but that rose to 53% by 1916.5

However, after WWI, especially among mainline Protestants, church planting plummeted, for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons was the issue of ‘turf’. Once the continental U.S. was covered by towns and settlements and churches and church buildings in each one, there was strong resistance from older churches to any new churches being planted in ‘our neighborhood’. As we have seen above, new churches are commonly very effective at reaching new people and growing for its first couple of decades. But the vast majority of U.S. congregations reaches their peak in size during the first two or three decades of their existence and then remain on a plateau or slowly shrink.6 This is due to the factors mentioned above. They cannot assimilate well new people or groups of people as well as new churches. However, older churches have feared the competition from new churches. Mainline church congregations, with their centralized government, were the most effective in blocking new church development in their towns. As a result, however, the mainline churches have shrunk remarkably in the last 20-30 years.7

What are the historical lessons? Church attendance and adherence overall in the United States is in decline and decreasing. This cannot be reversed in any other way than in the way it originally had been so remarkably increasing. We must plant churches at such a rate that the number of churches per 1,000 population begins to grow again, rather than decline, as it has since WWI.