What I Learned About Churchplanting in 2012

As we complete our first full year as a new church, I thought I’d reflect a little on what I’ve learned as a church planter this past year.

It is not my church. I was appointed to plant the church, but as Paul wisely reminds me often, I plant, someone else waters but God provides the growth. If I am not trusting God on a daily basis, I am failing as a pastor and a leader.
“If you build it they will come” is not always true.  The statistics are clear: it does not matter if you have the best band in town, the most charismatic preacher, a totally awesome youth ministry or missional community groups that watch Rob Bell DVD’s while sipping Chardonnay; non-churchgoers are not going to attend your church! Not that we tried all of that, mind you, but I did buy in to the lie that if we simply started a cool contemporary worship service, people would come.

People are looking for a way to serve. More than anything, I think I’ve realized that while non-churchgoers are not looking for a church or organized religion, they are looking for a way to serve. A new church will do well to organize everything around a core value/practice of mission. We continue to see the value of gathering, singing, teaching, and the sacraments, but we are learning that in order to truly impact the lives of the un-churched/de-churched, we must offer opportunities for everyone to play. I like to call it an all-skate. When I was young a fun night on the town always included a stop at Skatetown USA. If I was not in a meaningful relationship (which was often) I couldn’t skate during the couples skate; I wasn’t fast enough to participate in the races; and I wasn’t limber enough to do limbo! So I had to wait for the announcer to say those wonderful words: “It’s an all-skate!” The floor is open to all and sundry. That’s the way church needs to be. Everyone needs to have ample opportunity to skate.
Leadership must be shared. We live in an open-source “wiki” world. People want to participate and collaborate like never before. Church planting is not for control freak lone rangers with self-esteem issues. Leadership  must be a community event. I have recently discovered the term “curator,” and feel like it is a good title for a church planter. A curator (from the Latin ‘to take care of”) is a sort of overseer or manager in today’s society. My primary role as a church planter is to oversee the development of new disciples and to manage them in such a way as to bring out the very best in them and offer them full participation in the leadership of the new church. As a side note, I have discovered that it is imperative to allow people to belong BEFORE believing. We have tended to require belief before full participation in the life of the church.  I believe that we must allow people to belong, participate, have a voice etc. in the life of the church even while they are figuring things out.
You have to take risks. A new church is just not going to make it without taking some serious risks. Not all of the risks we’ve taken have worked, but the ones that have worked, worked really well! Failure will occur. The test of faith for the new church plant team is whether they will get back up and risk again. If everything worked out perfectly every time, I’d wonder what we were doing wrong.

Bigger is not always better. In fact, I would argue that the megachurch is being replaced by the microcommunity. Just as people are looking for opportunities to serve, I am also convinced that people are looking for genuine relationship. The technological age has persuaded us that genuine community can be found in cyberspace with our 700 “friends” on Facebook. This just simply is not true. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Facebook, but genuine relationships just aren’t going to form there. We need to be together – preferably serving together – so that we can truly connect and develop the kinds of relationships that are only forged in what Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost call “communitas.” We are transitioning to a more micro form of church beginning in January and are very excited about this next phase of our journey. We are beginning with two Sunday morning gatherings so that we don’t completely ignore the deeply imbedded “Sunday morning is for church” ethos of our community. But we are launching these gatherings in our coffee shop which has a maximum capacity of 50. This will force us to start other gatherings as we grow. Our intention is to launch several microcommunities that meet throughout the week in a variety of locations all across North Okaloosa County and challenging each community to have an outreach/missional component to everything they do. In this way we are able to meet the needs of the spiritual but non-religious/anti-instutional/un-churched for service and community all at the same time.

I am doing a teaching series beginning in January that I am calling “I Dream of a Church.” Here are the 7 things that I dream of, and the 7 things that The Journey is going to strive to be in 2013:

A Church:

That doesn’t feel like church
Where everyone is welcome
Where it’s easy to belong
Where “real” is more important than “right.”
Where “people” are more important than “policy.”
Where outside is just as important as inside
Where lives are being transformed

I am excited for what is in store for us in 2013. The journey continues …


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