We are entering our first summer with our first missional community and we are beginning to discuss what we want it to look like. There are many opportunities, but there are also challenges because of the rapidly changing weekly schedules due to kids being out of school. This is only compounded by the fact that we live in Western Washington and our summer weather is typically short-lived and sporadic and if the sun comes out poeple want to take advantage of it. I read a great article this week dealing with some of these issues. Here is an excerpt:
Summertime always prompts images of grilling in the backyard, vacation road trips, watching baseball, and adventures in the neighborhood.
In the church, it’s often a season where we “take a break” from ministry and community. I’ve always found that idea somewhat odd when I consider my identity in Christ. I don’t really ever “take a break” for an entire season from my earthly family, so why would I skip out on my spiritual family for three months?
My family rhythm certainly changes in the summer, but it doesn’t disappear entirely. The kids are out of school, and we’re on the go more, but we don’t stop teaching our kids about Jesus and His Word. We certainly don’t cease to be brothers and sisters in Christ with our church family during the summer either.
What if your community continued striving to be a spiritual family this summer, rather than pushing pause?
Read the whole article, including the great suggestions for missional communities in the summer! As we move through the summer we are going to be experimenting with some things. Sometime after the summer I’ll post a follow-up with reflections on our experience.
We have been looking for a new worship gathering location since the beginning of the year – and now we have found it! Beginning this Sunday (June 12, 2013) we will begin gathering for worship at the Stanwood Community and Senior Center! I’ll share more about this place, but first, some background:
As you can see from some of my previous posts, we have experienced some difficulties and learned a lot along the way in our quest for office and worship space. Our hope was that we might find an office space in the community that could also function as a small worship gathering spot until we needed something bigger. All through this process we have been praying that God would lead us to a place that would be more than just a convenient location for worship gatherings, but that the place would also help connect us more with God’s mission in the community. Explained another way: Often times a worship space becomes a building detached from the daily lives of the people in the congregation. Instead, we have been dreaming about a place that would locate us in the community in a way that would help us make connections. And this goal was part of the reason why we ran into trouble with zoning and land use issues since most of these kind of places are in busy commercial/downtown areas.
I have to admit that I was initially reluctant to consider worshipping at a “Senior Center.” I was concerned that this might create more barriers to younger generations (and it might – if we are just talking about getting them to come to worship). However, it quickly became clear to us that the Stanwood Community and Senior Center was a great opportunity! They are under the leadership of a new director, and are focused on being much more outward oriented toward the community (sound familiar?) There is already a private elementary school meeting at the Center, and the Stanwood High School football team is having their team dinners there. In addition, the Center has 85 residents that live there in independent living apartments that help meet the need for low-income senior housing. There is also relatively new low-income family housing next door. The staff is extremely warm, joyful, and welcoming and open to us joining into the many events that happen during the week.
Obviously there are many opportunities for us to serve at the Center – everything from painting to classes to helping with large social events. However, we quickly realized that the best service that we could provide is one that we are already doing – a worship service! Since our primary model for reaching younger families detached from church is through the missional communities, there is absolutely no conflict here! Older generations obviously have a much more positive attitude toward the church (generalizing here) and are much more likely to “come” to a worship service. Obviously, many of the seniors that come to the Center and those that live there are already connected to churches in the community, and we will not be trying to compete for there attendance. But especially for those that have a hard time going very far for worship, we pray that as we go to them it will be a blessing and that they will join our community for worship!
As a side note: The main part of the Stanwood Community and Senior Center building is the historic “Lincoln School” building that sits directly above the current Stanwood High School football field. Since we are a new church, it will be good to have that connection with the history of the community.
Second side note: The earliest worship experiences that I can remember in my life were with the Light and Life Free Methodist Church in Bend, Oregon. We met at the Bend Senior Center which, at the time, was about a block away from my house.
I’m writing this entry in my blog primarily as a resource to those who made read this later while moving through the church planting process. Unlike me, you may already be aware of some of these issues, but I was caught off-guard. I’m referring specifically to my naiveté regarding worship space for our church. I honestly thought that a church could gather for worship pretty much anywhere that they desired, provided that they were willing to pay to lease the location and certain fire/building codes were met. So I was quite surprised to find that there are areas within the city (many in fact), where “houses of worship” are not allowed under the city/county codes. And even in some of the areas where they are allowed there are other conditions that must be met (like minimum size of property) and additional applications that must be submitted and approved. So my advice to others beginning to search for space for their church plant: go and ask the city about this issue specifically and get a map before you begin looking.
I’m learning a lot about this issue, but I admittedly still know very little. I can tell you this: it’s quite complicated and the issue of churches and zoning is dealt with differently in different locations. Stanwood does not allow churches in most of the commercial areas in town. Our vision of having an office and small worship location in a community center with a cafe type atmosphere is looking more and more unlikely. The city explained it to me this way: if we want to lease a place that is being used primarily as something else (like a school/theater/etc.) then we are ok. But if we want to lease a space to be used on Sunday morning for worship and the rest of the week as an office then we fall under the “house of worship” classification and our choices are limited by the current zoning.
There is a federal law that was passed in 2000 often referred to by the acronym RLUIPA (Religous Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) that prohibits cities from discriminating against religious organizations in their zoning. I did some research and a number of sources say that most cities are probably not in compliance with the law. However, there have also been differing circuit court rulings on the interpretation of the law. The heart of the problem is apparently not so much that cities are anti-church, but rather that they need tax revenue. When a church moves into a commercial or industrial space that city loses the potential tax revenue. When a church purchases a building the city loses the property tax revenue. I understand the dilemma. I also understand the some mega-churches have not been the most welcome neighbors and have not been in well-planned locations.
Whether or not a city is in compliance with the law is probably a matter of debate and would likely require significant legal work to resolve. For us, legal action and fighting is simply not the way forward. We desire to be the best church for the community and to work in partnership with the existing organizations and structures, not to be an adversary. However, it is very frustrating and I believe short-sighted on the part of the city. A healthy church provides so much benefit to the community and neighborhood that go well beyond the issue to taxes and revenue. We dream of being a church that supports work with the homeless, provides tutoring, supports the local schools, and through the power of Christ changes the very lives of families for the better. We want to see crime reduced, marriages healed, children educated, hungry fed, seniors provided with community, etc. – all in the name of Christ. So my hope is that over time we can also be a voice to challenge some of the existing zoning so that more creative models of “church” can be allowed to flourish in the community as it continues to grow.
In the meantime, we are once again back to the drawing board. I’m convinced that we will eventually find the right fit for us, it just may not happen as easily or as quickly as we hoped. And this entire issue convinces me, once again, that the missional community model is an effective way to live as the church in our changing culture. None of these land use issues effect what happens in our home, with 10 – 20 people gathered together for a meal, and strategizing about how to “be the church” in the neighborhood where we live. And nothing is preventing us from having another 10 – 20 groups all doing the same thing!
I just heard this interview for the first time, even though it has apparently been around for a long time. When I think of “missional church” I don’t immediately think about what Keller is describing here. Nevertheless, being conversant and engaged with the culture where you live is certainly a very important part of being missional. I think that what Keller is describing is primarily focused on those of us that spend most of our time in professional ministry. The problem for those that don’t work in the church is that so often they ARE “just like everyone else” when they are away from the church building and the church community gatherings. They are also just like “church people” when they are around them. The key is to reorienting oneself so that all of life is under the authority of Jesus, and then living all of life on the mission that Jesus has given us. To me, this becomes the key difference between being a “seeker sensitive” church and being a missional church. It is one thing to be sure that we talk in a way that those who have never heard the good news can understand what we are talking about in our groups and in our worship, but it is another thing to begin live out the gospel in a way that permeates and informs all of our life and conversations.
I had to share this blog post primarily because I didn’t want to lose the link. As we move forward with our own missional communities it will be increasingly important to be intentional about the ways we build these “rhythms” into our life. One of the reasons we like the name “Tidelands” is because the tides remind all of us that live near the water of the rhythms that God built into all of creation.
Here is yet another great resource on the discussion about what makes a missional community. This comes from Jordan Elder and the folks at Redeemer Church in Bellingham. Take a look at their blog if you are interested in finding more resources and ideas for developing missional communities.
There are some great resources on the GCM website if you have not seen it. If I’m honest, I still tend to expect our MC growth to look like the drawing on the left, even as I experience it as the drawing on the right.
“If a church exists only to meet the religious needs of church people, your vision of church and your gospel is too small.”
– Darrell Guder
I hear it more and more these days: the argument that “missional” has simply become the next hot Christian phrase creeping onto every Church website, mission statement, and leader conference like “purpose-driven” or “seeker-sensitive” of the past. It is hard to argue with that, because it does seem to be happening. And unfortunately, as the meaning of the term gets diluted, what gets lost is increasingly the very purpose of the word in the first place: to get the church to reconnect with something that it has lost.
Here is a link to an article that summarizes some of the things Darrell Guder recently said about this issue (Guder wrote Missional Church a decade before the term became popular): “Church in a Post-Christian Context.”
Language is important, and it bothers me that people may hear us talk about “missional communities” and think that it is just a cool new way to describe small groups. However, what concerns me more, whatever we call it, is that what we are doing is actually connecting with God’s mission in our time and place. Quoting Guder again (from the article referenced above), here is another way to describe what a “missional community” is meant to be:
“Missional communities are about God calling together a people to serve God’s purposes in a particular context (neighborhood) to bring healing, reconciliation and good news to those around them. A missional community is not an end itself. It is not a church that exists for its own purposes.”
I once heard Eugene Peterson say that it may be helpful at times to remove a word from usage in order to allow it to regain meaning if that meaning has become too diluted and overused. As I recall, he was talking about the pervasive use of “Christian” as an adjective to describe all kinds of things in marketing. This was perhaps prophetic, as I have noticed that I and others often choose to describe ourselves as “followers of Jesus” in order to more accurately convey to those outside the church what we are instead of connecting with the often misunderstood “Christian” label. This is not an attempt to be “politically correct” but rather to communicate effectively. My hope is that the word “missional” has not already reached this point. I suspect that it has not, only because I often find myself explaining to others in great detail what I mean by a “missional community.” What has been your experience?
One of the most beneficial things for me during this church planting process has been the opportunity to take my family to worship with other churches on the Sundays that we are not having worship at Tidelands. (Right now we are having a Tidelands worship gathering once a month, worshiping with Mountain View once a month, and then visiting other churches on the open Sundays). Although we are not “church shopping” in the sense that we are looking for a new church home, we have been able to experience what it must be like for those that are. My wife and I have been taking our boys on this journey with us (ages 9 & 6). It has given me insight that may be helpful for others, and will undoubtedly be helpful for our leaders in the future. So without further ado, here is my list of…
WHAT CHURCHES SHOULD BE DOING TO WELCOME VISITORS:
Keep your website fresh and updated!
I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people (and increasingly older generations as well) will want to check out your website before visiting. Here’s what they are looking for: worship times, worship style, information on children’s ministry/nursery, sermon examples, pictures of your worship space, directions, pastor’s name, a brief statement about what you believe. It also doesn’t hurt to give them examples of what to expect during a typical service. Remember: while information on all of your midweek programs may be what existing church people are looking for, visitors just want the basics to decide if it is worth the effort to try it out.
Put up the Signs!
Church buildings in North America have got to be some of the craziest spaces in our cities. Many of them have multiple parking areas, multiple sanctuaries, and additions that go in every direction. Even the smallest church buildings often have additions on them that aren’t easy to figure out. Of course it makes sense to those that go every Sunday, but what about the visitor? Can they find the nursery without asking someone? Can they find the main entrance from wherever they end up parking? Will they know where they can and can’t park? I can’t tell you how many church buildings we just had to guess at a door for worship.
Someone Say Hello!
It seems obvious, but you might be surprised at how people in small and large churches seemed to ignore our family of four. We visited one church where we walked into a worship with about 30 people. Everyone knew that we were new, but not a single person that morning said anything to us other than “The peace of Christ be with you” during the “passing of the peace.” Someone be courageous! Say, “Hi! Is this your first time here?” If you’re in a bigger church I understand that there is a fear that if you ask someone if it is their first time that they might say, “no, we’ve been coming here for a year” and you would be embarrassed. That’s ok! If they say that respond with: “I apologize for not introducing myself before. My name is …” and go from there. And in case your wondering, the pastor shaking hands at the door or the people giving you a bulletin on the way into the sanctuary don’t count! We all know that they HAVE to say hello!
Make Children Welcome!
Have information everywhere for parents. Put it on signs around the church, have someone in the Sunday School wing directing and welcoming people, put it on an information card in the pews and chairs and all over the website. Don’t leave parents wondering what they are supposed to do with kids! We’ve been there and it is not fun! Make sure that your children’s area looks like a place you would want to leave your kids. Ask yourself, if this were a school would I be ok with the way the hallway, classroom, etc. look? If the kids are invited to come “forward” for a kid’s message and then leave to a class, be sure to also invite those kids and parents still seated to come with the group as they leave to the class time. Visiting kids will rarely go to the front of a strange church! Our kids have had some amazing experiences and some where they wanted nothing to do with the children’s ministry and stayed in the service with us. Even worse, we’ve been to services where there is nothing for the kids during the service at all! No children’s message, no sunday school, nothing to draw on, no information about their ministry – Nothing! Our kids are longtime church kids, but there are places that were intolerable even for them. Imagine what a kid that has never been to church would feel! I can tell you that our children have had the best experiences at churches that had larger groups of kids together of various ages for a type of “kids church.” Walking into a classroom with three kids is very intimidating and uncomfortable for a visiting child so the large group puts them at ease and has more energy.
Explain what you are doing in worship!
I realize that the “seeker sensitive” movement may have taken some things to extremes, but they also got some things right. Think about it: How is someone who has never been to worship or has come from a different tradition supposed to know what “passing the peace” is? What in the world are you doing with the bread and the wine anyway? Who is allowed to come? Why are you doing it? Even though I am a pastor, I have still found the eucharist to be very uncomfortable in some churches. How was I supposed to know that my little plastic cup went into a discard bin right next to the server up front? Should my children stay seated or come forward? Can we participate if we aren’t members? We don’t have to get rid of the liturgical elements in worship to make visitors comfortable, but we should take the time to explain them briefly. Also, if you’re doing the announcements, be sure to introduce yourself!
Invite people to stay for coffee!
If you have a place with cookies, coffee, tea, etc., have someone upfront in worship invite people to stay and enjoy it. Visitors are in survival mode. They want to figure out what to do with their kids, find a place to sit, experience the worship, and get back to their car to debrief without being horribly embarrassed. If visitors like the worship, and come back, then they will be looking to experience more. So let them know that you have a place to hang out and meet people. Of course, this only helps if someone takes #3 seriously!
Provide a way for people to meet with pastoral staff!
This doesn’t apply specifically to what we have experienced, but if we were truly “church shopping” then this would be important. Have a casual gathering a few times a year when people can meet with the leaders of the church and get to know others new to the church. Let them ask their questions (you could also solicit feedback!). Provide childcare, food, drink, and you’ll be on your way. Oh, and don’t be tempted to make this a “new members class.” They aren’t going to be ready for commitment yet.
I’m sure I’ll think of other things to add since we have a couple more months of this to go. I’ll update this entry as I think of them. Maybe you’ve been a church shopper and you’ve thought of some that aren’t on here?
One other note: This seems a little odd to write this article on this blog for the simple reason that these suggestions are primarily for an “attractional church” model (i.e. – “our doors our open every Sunday and you’re welcome to join us!). However, any church with regular worship gatherings is going to have visitors, even if it is just those moving into the community and looking for a church home. However, it does beg the question: How different would it be if the “visitors” in question had already been to the home of one of the regular attenders and was met by them in the parking lot on their first day at worship?