Category Archives: Church Planting

Your church will die.

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Drive down the main street of the city in which I live and you’ll see them: big, old, church buildings.  There are at least a dozen of them that sit either completely empty, devoid of all activity, or inhabited by congregations of less than 50 people looking quite scarce in their cavernous sanctuaries.  A few have “For Sale” signs on their lawns, a few are condemned, a few are being used by smaller churches paying minimal rent (which is great!), and even one is being turned into a high-rise condo.  There were days when these buildings were packed.  Those days are gone.

Someone, somewhere along the line, felt compelled to rally people around a fund-raising project and to build big.  Thankfully in those days, the majority of the buildings were constructed with theology and beauty in mind.  Yes, sometimes at the expense of function, but what we have now are at least buildings that, from the outside, add to the look of a city.  100 years from now I can’t imagine that the same will be said of the mall-style churches that are built these days out in the suburbs or warehouse districts.

But whether it’s a century-old beauty or a brand-new mall-style building, there is an unavoidable and obvious truth: buildings don’t last.  They fall apart eventually.  They don’t get better with age.  They demand upkeep and a whole lot of money to maintain infrastructure.  Millions of dollars are spent on maintenance let alone the amount spent to originally erect the facility.  And where does that money come from?  Usually the people who make up the church congregation.

I’ve worked in a money-sucking church building.  It was one of those projects that was undertaken at the height of “success,” only to go through the inevitable shrinking of its congregation.  It became an 1,100 seat auditorium hosting a congregation of 300.  When the numbers went down, the building became a heavy weight around that congregation, doing more than just demand money; it deeply affected the psyche of the congregation.  The building and its issues became to define the church.

Unfortunately my experience is not uncommon.  In my denomination alone we have several of these stories.  But here’s the kicker: we just keep doing the same thing.

I presume that in many cases the early days of all big-building projects and capital campaigns are exciting.  No doubt some buildings have been constructed for less-than admirable reasons, but generally I’m sure most have been built because people were coming to the church or settling in a neighbourhood in such numbers that a structure to facilitate the group needed to be created.  And in those moments, I wonder, where many people asking this question: “Who is going to pay for this in 20, 30, 60, 100 years from now?”  I bet that question isn’t asked very often because in the midst of the excitement, it likely feels like whatever this is, it will never end.

But it always does.

For 2000 years there have been local church congregations.  And for 2000 years every church that has been birthed has eventually closed its doors.  The Church will last forever.  But Scripture does not give us any indication that the local church will do the same.  Every church that builds will someday be tasked with figuring out how to maintain and sustain their infrastructure while dealing with dwindling congregations.  History suggests that this is an inevitable outcome.

So why do we not pay attention to our past?  Why do we continue to raise millions of dollars on a particular type of infrastructure that has shown itself to be unsustainable?  Do the ends justify the means?  Does facilitating current excitement and growth justify hamstringing future generations with all the problems that come with big infrastructure?  Why build big instead of building small in multiple locations — forming new contextual outposts of the Gospel in new communities and neighbourhoods?  Why build big and new instead of investing in existing structures and helping to solve the problems of brothers and sisters in Christ who are saddled with deteriorating buildings?  I believe that building big and raising the money to do so should be an absolute last resort — the idea at the bottom of the barrel.  There are better options.

I appreciate that infrastructure of some sort is needed to facilitate local churches.  We need space and that’s not a bad thing.  What I’m suggesting is that we don’t do a very good job of stewarding, creating, and using the right kind of space.  We too often fail to ask the right questions.  Instead of giving future generations within our churches the blessing of appropriate infrastructure, we saddle them with the types of infrastructure that make maintenance and the constant need for money the defining aspects of their church.  Instead of an infrastructure that is agile, low-maintenance, and ready for the constant shift in both our churches and culture, we leave them anchored to something that will end up driving their values and daily discussion.  I have yet to meet someone from a large church turned small that is saddled with a big building where the burden of the building has not become the thing around which all other conversations are centered.

I am convinced that the direction and movement of our Canadian culture demands that we evaluate our building habits.

Right next to the hall in which our church gathers and where my office is located is a cemetery.  It’s an old one (by Canadian standards) containing the resting places of a few people from as far back as the war of 1812.  I often walk the path through the cemetery on my way to appointments or when I’m just out for a stroll.  Cemeteries are odd places.  You feel sorrow, pain, death, and suffering.  As a Christian you also feel hope, resurrection, and a sense that this is not the end.  Either way, though, walking through a cemetery is a good way to remember something very important: you will die.  It’s a great way to regain perspective.

I hope that this post is a bit like walking through a cemetery: a pause in which we may find perspective.  Because your church will die, or at the very least it will get smaller someday.  You may disagree with the perspective I’m presenting.  That’s okay.  But the pause may be beneficial none the less.  Perhaps God has something else to say to you while you think on your (church’s) eventual death.

Feel free to comment.

 

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The Shaping of an Identity

Our church has been in the process of shaping our written identity — our vision, mission, statement, or whatever you want to call it.  It continues to be a work in progress, but here’s the most current stab at it.  This is something into which we wish to live, become, and be.

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Here because of grace.
Because God acted.
Because God loves.
Because God is about redemption.
Because God pursues us. Always.

He loves humanity.
He loves creation.
He is good.

Here because of Jesus.
Because in him all things are being redeemed.
Because of his life.
Because of his death.
Because of his resurrection.
Because he is with us. Always.

He is our pastor.
Our teacher.
Our counselor.
Our healer.
Our lord.
Our saviour.
Our hope.

Here because we are a church.
Because together in the Spirit we are united as one.
Because together we are able to listen to the Spirit’s leading.
Because together the Spirit is making us whole.
Because together we are the body of Jesus, with all our diversity and gifts.
Because together in our brokenness we find life.
Because together in our weakness we find strength.
Because together we embrace mystery.
Because together we walk in God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness.
Because together we submit to the Holy Scriptures.
Because together at the Table we find Jesus.

We are becoming a people who are learning to love Jesus more fully.
Becoming a people who love others.
Becoming a people who live on mission.
Becoming a people who share our stories.
Becoming a people who live God’s kingdom.
Becoming a people of ridiculous generosity.
Becoming a people who serve locally and globally.
Becoming a people who value simplicity.
Becoming a people who laugh, play, cry, and live life together.

Here because we love this city.
Because we believe there’s a better way.
Because we have so much to learn.

Ancaster Village Church

http://www.ancastervillagechurch.ca

An excellent model of multiplication

There are many models out there for planting churches.  Many of those models have had success and it’s likely that an equal amount haven’t been sustainable.  Which is to say, there’s no fail-proof model for planting a church.  The ability for a church plant to become sustainable is incredibly dependent on context, people, leadership, finances, and a myriad of other variables.  But so far as I can tell, the model in which I’m involved seems to be pretty stellar.

I work under the banner of Gateway Church (C&MA), Caledonia.  Gateway’s thing is “letting go and launching out.”  They have adopted the imagery of an airport terminal — that the point of being a part of their church community is to come in and then be launched out to live the mission of Jesus.  This not only applies to individuals or small groups, but also translates into church planting.  Our church plant in Ancaster is Gateway’s fourth foray into Southern Ontario.  And what I find refreshing, remarkable, and inspiring, is that Gateway’s not out to expand the Gateway empire.  The bottom line sentiment from Gateway is this: contextualize the Gospel for your area(!) and how can we help you in doing that?  Gateway provides money, people, financial administration, experience, wisdom, inspiration, encouragement, and the list keeps going.  But perhaps the most valuable ingredient in this recipe is that their church plants are called “freedom franchises.”  We are not a satellite (1).  We don’t take the name (if we don’t want it).  People from Gateway who live in our area are free to join us if they want (and if we want them).  People from Gateway, both involved in our plant or not, are encouraged to give financially towards our venture.  Gateway basically believes that the Gospel must go forward, and that regardless of the pain that church planting causes the “mother ship,” it’s worth it because it’s a matter of obedience and a natural outcome of a church having intimacy with the Father (2).

Gateway also believes that being a church that plants churches naturally keeps the conversation fresh and alive in the mother ship.  Church plants are forced to ask pertinent questions related to contextualizing the Gospel.  These questions, and the experiments that proceed from the answers, force the mother ship to look at herself and evaluate accordingly.  Church planting naturally stops the mother ship from becoming stagnant and out of touch.

It’s also worth nothing that Gateway herself is only twenty years old.  But in her first years a decision was made to start a church planting fund — that someday she’d give birth so she’d need money in the bank to do so.  Church planting was built into her DNA from the very beginning (which is why our church plant is already saving for an eventual baby).

But this is only one part of the equation.

In the C&MA we have what we call “Seamless Links.”  We encourage our Canadian churches to sign a Seamless Link agreement with a global C&MA missionary.  I think that the reasons for this are obvious.

Through a series of providential events this past summer, a C&MA church in Southeastern Saskatchewan signed the first ever national Seamless Link agreement with our church plant.  Estevan Alliance Church has signed a four year agreement to financially, prayerfully, and through visitations, support us.  For the reasons stated above concerning Gateway and church planting, Estevan wants in on the game.  EAC is a fifty year-old church and has never given birth.  So part of the long-term goal of this partnership is to wet EAC’s appetite for having a baby.

A group of five people from EAC just visited us last week, and I must say, this partnership is incredible.  I am so excited and filled with anticipation as I dream about how this partnership may enable us to do what we need to do in Ancaster, but also because it will do something for Estevan.  The EAC team returned to Estevan not only knowing about our church plant, but with a renewed vision and excitement for their own church.

So this, in broad strokes, is our model.  And I love it.  But then again, this is my first church plant and I’ve only been at this for less than a year.  So what do I know?  Ha!

If you like, you can check out a portion of our church plant’s recent commissioning/party service from Gateway by clicking here.

1. I would argue that a satellite is not a church plant (not even a church, maybe), but that’s another blog post.
2. A leader at Gateway once said this to me: “When a church has intimacy with the Father it naturally reproduces other churches; it makes babies.”  There’s a remarkable truth here and also a painful warning to those churches who have existed for decades, even centuries, and have never reproduced.