The timeline I posted a few weeks ago was at the request of a friend of mine who is going to be beginning a similar journey in a few months. The journey to planting a church is one that is hard to cookie cutter. I find many of the books on church planting are written by extremely successful church planters and read as chronicles of their church and how it launched. I have come to the conclusion that while they often read like they are recommending their strategy to you to follow, my opinion is that the diligent church planter should read as many of these stories as possible to understand both the possibilities for where your church plant might go and to grasp that there is no perfect plan, there is no God-endorsed system that always works. Church plants are most of all about people. And people are of infinite variety. As a group of people forms into a new church family, the gifts expressed amongst them will be of a different and unique combination than any other church family. As a result the church community will grow differently and bear different fruit in different times and different seasons.
Having said all this, there are in general phases that all church plants go through. In the readings that I have done on others and in the two church plants I have participated in, these phases all exist. I identified them in my first post in this series, our timeline. The first phase I have identified is Community Integration.
In my mind this phase is one that is most likely to be skipped, but it is also the one that must not be skipped. To define this phase I would say that it is the process of exploring your context, connecting to existing local resources and networking with other pastors and church planters in the area. If you are planting in a city in which you already reside and have resided in for some time, it may be possible to shorten this period because you already know the answers to who you need to talk to but it does not make the process any less important.
Exploring your context means that you need to discover and understand the community in which you are planting. This involves taking advantage of demographic studies. But it also means much more. Demographics are an ok place to start. Are there predominantly blue collar families or white collar families? Are two income families the norm or one income families? Do people in general commute to work or do they work locally? Or do they work out of town? What education levels are most common? If you can obtain a spiritual profile of the area that would also be exceedingly useful, as it will help to determine special challenges that you may face – like large communities of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or in more urban centers, pockets of Muslims, Buddhists, or even Atheists might require special preparation to reach into.
Here in Medicine Hat, we discovered that
I have been thinking about writing a series of retrospectives on our journey to launching Grasslands Church for a few days now. I am thinking that for those who are out there thinking about planting a church or trying to get ideas about how they should go about doing it, it would be a helpful series. Not because I think we did everything right, but because when I was in that place, I desperately wanted to read every story I could that led to the birth of a church. I wanted to see, hear, breathe in the energy, excitement, joy and sometimes worry, pain and regret. So for those of you who crave that, here is part 1. This will be a timeline of events from our arrival in Medicine Hat to Grasslands Church’s first Christmas.
Phase 1 – Community Integration.
Objectives – to integrate family into the city, identify and contextualize vision for new church, grow support network.
May 22, 2010 – Our family rolls into Medicine Hat, as sleet falls from the sky. So much for the sunniest place in Canada.
June 2010 – Working on wrapping up training to start in Real Estate, transferring insurance, driver’s licenses, etc.
June 13-18 – Great Canadian Adventure. Community Surveys and service projects with local organizations.
July 2010 – Travel to Ohio to participate in Fellowship’s National Conference. Invaluable face time with leaders and supporters. Added new prayer supporters. Begin attending at the Link Church, a 4 year old church with similar values.
August 2010 – Finish Training, deal with major repair bill for van, launch Real Estate Career. Also, meet my associate church planter, discover his calling.
September 2010 – Kids start school (first day ever – they had been homeschooled previously). Start driving School bus for extra cash flow. Join local ministerium to network with local pastors.
October 2010 – volunteer with Exchange Student Alpha program at the Link.
December 2010 – First listing ever! Christmas trip to parents’ house.
Phase 2 – Pre-Launch
Objectives – form a launch team continue to gather support, cast vision, invite people into relationship.
January 2011 – transition out of school bussing and into real estate assistant role. Associate church planter and family arrive in Medicine Hat.
January 8-11 – Participate in Northwest District Ministerium and Church Planter Assessment (added new prayer supporters)
January 31-Feb 2, 2011 – Southwest Pastor’s Retreat (added prayer supporters and a church to participate in Summer’s mission teams)
February, 2011 – Launch our first evangelistic Bible Study. Invitations extended through various nontraditional means including craigslist and facebook. Attenders come through craigslist ad.
February 28, 2011 – 1st Information Session. Over 20 attend. Form first core group, made up of us, the Blairs, and several new friends from the Info Session.
March 7-11 – Church Planter’s Boot Camp in Minneapolis with Bart. Invaluable exercise.
March 25-30 – Northwest District Conference. Added prayer supporters, visited potential financial supporters.
March 31 – 2nd Information Session.
May 2011 – 3 more core team members arrive from Surrey, BC
May 15 – Sunday Night Open meetings begin at Southview Church of God (Anderson)
May 16-18 – Northwest District Focus Retreat
May 31 – end employment as a realtor. Begin temporary position at Census Canada.
July 12 – Cheryl begins work at the Hospital as a Nursing Educator.
July 16 – Couple from Evangelistic Bible Study accept Christ, renew their vows.
July 31-August 5 – Great Canadian Adventure (USA Mission Week)
August 14-18 – Trans-Canada Summit (First GBCanada National Conference, Canadian Mission Week)
August 28 – Begin another evangelistic bible study with 4 people. First Sunday morning in the Galaxy Cinemas, Medicine Hat.
August 29 – Launch 2nd Community Group.
Phase 3 – Post-Launch
Objectives: to foster community, encourage commitment, and more towards true community creation (membership).
September 11, 2011 – CHURCH LAUNCH! 174 people in attendance.
September 2011 – numbers taper off from 174 to 115 to 76, by October average remains steady at 70 until the end of the year.
October 15 – Family Fun Day Connection Event. ~30 attend.
October 23 – 1st Lunch With Oliver (Initial Membership Lunch – leading to Bible Study and Membership Class)
October 30 – 1st Baptism Service – 5 Baptized! 3rd and 4th Evangelistic Bible Studies launched (in conjunction with Membership classes)
December 4 – 1st Baby Dedication.
December 24 – Christmas Eve Service at local restaurant. Dec 25 Sunday morning service cancelled.
January 15, 2012 – Annual General Meeting/Vision 2012/3 more baptisms!
January 29 – launch of a new Evangelistic Bible Study, Discipleship class, and 2 new community groups!
That takes us pretty much up to the present. We are excited to have 3 or 4 more in evangelistic Bible Studies and are about to celebrate our first crop of 17 members! God has been so good to us.
Hey everyone. You may have noticed this blog has not been updated in what seems like forever. As we have moved towards launch of course things have gotten a lot busier. We have also started up a blog for the church itself. It can be found at www.grasslandschurch.com/blog. That blog gets updated with some regularity.
Thank you for journeying with us through the process of planting a church on faith. God has proven incredibly faithful to us through our journey, and we really marvel at how He has shown himself not just able, not just willing, but actively doing much much more than we could ask or imagine. I hope your faith has been built up by journeying with us.
Oliver continues to blog sporadically on theological and personal tidbits at www.oliverinthehat.com so if you are into debate and discussion, that’s the place to go. Peace!
God has been at work! I just wanted to get this quick blog up to let you all know that God has been at work in Medicine Hat! If you have been getting our newsletters, you know we have been holding information sessions and they have gone well. More than well in fact, but we are moving onward and upward as God builds momentum and brings people excited to be a part of Grasslands Church together to build His Kingdom.
I wanted to let you all know that our core team is growing! Since the arrival of the Blairs, things have been happening. If I can look ahead by a few weeks, to the arrival of the Greenhows and Megan Kendall in May, we have currently 11 believers who want to see this church move forward! We also have 5 more adults currently in connection with the Blairs who may wind up joining us. Further there are a couple of other families who we have been in contact with who we are currently growing relationships with.
Join us in praising God for this work that is forming! Please pray for us as we will be switching formats to move to a Sunday night meeting at the Southview Church of God. They have graciously opened their doors to us to give us a chance to begin to hold non-public services. We hope to launch into this next phase of the church plant on May 15th.
I am at the Southwest Focus Retreat for Pastors at the Oaks Conference Centre in Lake Hughes, CA. So far it’s been a really amazing couple of days with leaders, lay and clergy. I have been refreshed doing things I love like hiking and exploring. We have been challenged to think about how God makes us fully alive and restores us when we have lost energy.
We were discussing tonight what that looks like, what challenges it for us right now. Certain things that I am dealing with sprang quickly to mind. I got discouraged because I didn’t follow directions, and I checked in on business at home. I found out there are some issues waiting for me when I get back, and it just took the wind out of my sails.
I began to think about what it means to walk with God. I thought about how when you fail, it is you who fails. Failures weigh me down because I fail a lot. Failures to keep myself from sin, failures at work, failures in my home life. They are everywhere. And I can only blame myself.
Yet, when something goes right, as Christians we give God the glory. It is not us who succeed, lest pride overtake us. It is God, to His glory. So we give all the credit away, in humility, but take all the blame upon ourselves.
This is a recipe for disaster.
But the message of this retreat is the truth of who we are in Jesus. Because of His love for us, because of His sacrifice for us, because of His cleansing of us of our sins, we are wholly clean, and loved without end. We are loved by God, and there is nothing we can do about it.
It is this miracle, this unconditional relationship that changes everything and makes the first two concepts irrelevant. I can blame myself for all my failures, but to God, none of that matters. I can fail at everything – absolutely everything in life, but I can rest in the love of God for me that doesn’t care about those things that I am letting devastate me. I am perfect in the Father’s eyes because Jesus has made me white as snow.
This is a rich truth. I am grateful to God for getting me here at this time.
I am pondering the late summer window. We are considering having a week at the end of August set aside for pre-launch outreach. The interesting thing about Medicine Hat (and Alberta) is public school starts the week before Labour Day, which I keep feeling is an opportunity. Parents are stressed (but relieved) to get the kids back into weekday routines, kids are disappointed to be back at school (but happy to renew friendships with kids they haven’t seen all summer). In times of change there is opportunity.
My question to you is this: what ideas can you think of that would be appropriate for such a period? I am thinking something that either saves time or takes the pressure off parents rushing for school supplies, or something that might be fun for the kids who are dealing with the shock of classes and homework again, or maybe something school-related that blesses a school. Ideas please!
I’ve been wishing I could get back to the concept I started with a few weeks ago, but after two days of thought and energy engaging with Nathan Bryant and Bart Blair about the vision and mission of our church-to-come, now I find the thought developing further.
In my first post, I talked about how it seems that we might have been getting it backwards. In an effort to preserve perhaps the “holiness” of our churches, we have attempted to distance ourselves from people until they share our faith. We don’t really want them with us until we know they are “saved” and then magically, they become perfect like us (snort, and if you actually believe that, I have a deal on some oceanfront property in Saskatchewan for you). So it was fine to lead people to the Lord, but you didn’t really want to be around them until they were in the club. It seems that this is being turned on its head now, with the new idea being welcoming people into your community, and as they get to see your faith lived out between you and the rest of the church (see John 13:35). As they see, and begin to desire this love for themselves, they seek after the cause of this love (see 1 Peter 3:15). This leads them to Christ, but in the context of community.
Some have even gone so far as to say it need not be normative that a person can point to a “moment in time” that they became saved. In fact, many report this reality anyway – that they can’t recall a specific date where they came to believe, but they know they believe now – that they recognize their sin, they have repented of it before God and accepted Jesus’ death on the cross as having made them clean in the Father’s eyes – and brought them into the Family of God.
I think this view has a corollary – that we recognize that the process of discipleship – the process of becoming a fully committed follower of Jesus – is ongoing. Everyone is somewhere on this continuum. Some have surrendered more of their lives to Jesus’ lordship than others. Some have not surrendered at all. It is impossible for us as mere humans to know with certainty the state of anyone’s soul so we must keep our doors open as wide as possible that all may hear and take steps along their own personal continuum towards Jesus.
It occurs to me as a student of Church History that this reintroduces the problem that many people wrestled with in the past. More than one Christian group was formed in an effort to be pure and holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) – the spotless bride of Christ (Eph. 5:27) that we are called to be. What it appears I am advocating is a return to what was first advocated by Augustine – the idea of the church encompassing both the saved and the unsaved. The difference is that I am not suggesting that the unsaved can in any way participate in the ordinances – they are for those with faith in Christ. The challenge is, without omniscience, I can’t know for sure who is who so I am forced to rely on confession and admonition – advising people that these things (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper) are for believers so if you are not all there with respect to Jesus, His his sacrifice for you and His Lordship over you – then you need not participate.
And all through the church, people debated: Harvest Fest or Trick or Treat?
Jon Acuff asks us what we think of Hallowe’en, and proposes one of three responses. I have a fourth.
Hallowe’en looms like a black stain on the fall for many Christians. It is a dark night, full of the connotations of paganism, spiritism, black magic and occultic practices. In response, many churches have attempted to absent themselves from the holiday by creating “Harvest Festivals” or other activities where kids can approximate the Hallowe’en experience with “good” costumes, free candy, and fun games instead of the door-to-door “trick or treating” and scary decorations.
When our oldest was getting to the age where he might go trick-or-treating, we had to wrestle with this question a bit. We wrestled even more when the church we belonged to had one of these “harvest fests”. Now, as a family we have landed in a different place. We have decided to participate in Hallowe’en.
Whoa! There goes our prayer base! No, please, hear my heart on this. Hallowe’en is not the first pagan holiday that the Church has had to wrestle with. Read the rest of this entry »
Pastor Mike Landry of The Link Church out here in Medicine Hat gave me a copy of “The Tangible Kingdom”. I finished it last week and have been meaning to hash out in writing a concept that was new to me.
What has become of salvation? The evangelical concept of salvation has been communicated so often to culture that it has become the butt of jokes: “have you started a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” “Have you made him your personal Lord and saviour?” Keyword: personal.
Maybe this emphasis on making an individual decision is a by-product of the individualistic self-centred flavour that western society has indulged in for the past 100 years or so. Maybe it isn’t what Jesus had in mind.
I notice that in the writings of a lot of missional thinkers (Halter and Stetzer spring to mind first as they are two I have read most recently), they talk about a reversal of the standard process of evangelism. Instead of the person staying on the outside of the church family until they accept Christ, then they join “the family”, they come, they participate, they integrate, and as a result they come to faith.
It seems to me that this rings true but think about this: they are not coming to a personal faith, they are joining a communal faith. If it sound a little communisty to you, remember monasticism is a Christian tradition that is 1800 years old, and even in protestantism, the Hutterites have been around for 400 years.
Does Scripture back this up? I will look at a few verses next time, but please, if you think of some verses that shed light on the question for or against this view, please share in the comments.
One prayer request we have kept before our prayer network has been the calling of team members to join us here. We dreamed that not only would God send us partners in ministry and in life, but that they would have skills and gifts that would complement what we bring.
Ephesians 3:20 always reminds me that our God is able to do more than we could ask or imagine. Yet, I need this constantly reinforced. I need to be reminded, “Dream bigger!” The events of the last month have been a testimony to this truth.
I would like you to meet Bart and Elizabeth Blair. They have been integral parts of the team at Grace Community Church in Mississauga for 9 years. Bart came on as the worship leader at the first Grace Brethren Church in Canada 6 months after they launched. In many ways he has grown with them, but before he even came to them he came with a background in music and the arts. He has a degree in music from the University of Texas and spent several years in children’s theatre before he found his way to Canada. His incredible giftings and passion for leading well have been blessed as he has grown a stellar worship team at Grace.
Together with his wife Elizabeth, they have three children: Sarah-Lynn, Silas and Ephraim. Elizabeth works in the mortgage field, (which complements my real estate business well) and has a passion for touching people’s lives with the love of Jesus. She has been a part of many different outreach ministries at Grace.
The story of how God moved them to begin their journey to Medicine Hat is fascinating, but I can’t tell it nearly as well as they can. Check out Bart’s Blog for their account of God’s calling them.
From our side, we had a hint dropped to us that they were thinking about Medicine Hat at the beginning of August, but obviously they needed a lot of answers – from God and from others with wisdom and discernment to be sure this was God’s will. They also needed to see for themselves what Medicine Hat is like. From a distance, it seems like a tiny town in the remotest part of the prairies (especially relative to Toronto, one of the largest cities in the world!) They planned to visit us for 4 days towards the end of August. We had an amazing time of hearing their heart, where they felt God was taking them, and in turn sharing what caused us to be moved of God to Medicine Hat and why we are in love with this city.
Finally, a week after they left, we got word: they were coming! Wow! They are coming on faith – they both have good careers, their children have good friends, but now they are stepping out as a family for God. They come with no promise of income, no guarantees, but they come because God has called and they have said, “Here I am!” They still need to sell their home and transition out here. We expect them to arrive around Christmas time (what a Christmas gift!) Suddenly we have two people passionate for the Lord, desiring to see a new church birthed here in Medicine Hat, connected with our fellowship, gifted and experienced in ways that we couldn’t imagine!
We’ve been waiting with bated breath to tell you about this but to be fair to everyone in their lives, we needed to let them make the announcement in their way. But now we can celebrate with you all! Thank you for your prayer and keep praying! If God can do this, what is next to come?