Church Planting, Discipleship, Mission, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: You’ve Gotta Go

Jesus is full of surprises. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged, he pulls an audible and you’re left asking, “Whaaaat?”

When Jesus toured Galilee, early in his ministry, he performed miracles and taught about the kingdom. He also stared down the Pharisees and called people to follow him. His reputation grew and soon a huge entourage was following him.

He was a pretty big deal.

Which is why it’s surprising that he took a little excursion into a village called Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Nain was barely a town. It was more like a small hamlet with a few roads and some settlements. The entrance to the town was the end of a dusty street. It was pretty forgettable. Nobody who was somebody went to Nain. Nobody would have taken selfies in Nain. The Google Maps car wouldn’t have gone through Nain.

And yet Jesus went to Nain. And what we begin to discover, early in the gospel of Luke, is that Jesus wasn’t influenced by wealth, prestige, or fame. He didn’t have a bucket list of all the places he wanted to visit.

Jesus went to places where others wouldn’t go, to reach people that others couldn’t reach.

As followers of Jesus, we’ve got to do the same. The world is not changed if the church stands still. We’ve got to get out and get moving. Movement – wherever, however – is the starting point for Jesus to bring restoration to hearts and lives. His plan to change the world demands the motion of his church. There is no ‘Plan B’.

I wonder…what might that look like for you? You’ll never know, until you start moving. The starting point of mission is intentional – it is seldom accidental. It begins by putting one foot in front of the other.

If we learn anything from Jesus, mission doesn’t always happen in the glamorous places. Jesus’ feet led him to a village called Nain. It can be argued that Jesus put Nain on the map. Sometimes mission takes place in the mundane, everyday experiences, like when you’re out walking your dog. Or when you’re sitting in your work cubicle. Or when you’re down on the corner picking up your mail.

And sometimes mission leads you to go to costly places. Unseemly, dangerous places. Places that won’t bump up your algorithm on social media. Places that won’t make anybody’s bucket list.

Jesus is looking for people who will go where others will not go, to reach people that others will not reach.

Should this surprise us?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Church Planting

Three Small Church Myths

People join a small church for different reasons. Sometimes their reasons can lead to disappointment because they’re just unobtainable. I’d like to dissect three common myths about the small church.

Myth 1: If I go to a small church then I can actually get to know everybody.

Unless you have a photographic memory and don’t have a day job, you can’t possibly do this. The reality is that you can only manage about a dozen people in your close relational network. Beyond that, everyone else is more of an acquaintance. A small church of about seventy-five people is already too large for you, if you plan to get to know everybody. In this scenario, you might eventually be able to remember everyone’s name (after about two years), so long as nobody leaves or joins the church. But you won’t really know them personally and they won’t really know you. Since you can only manage so many people in your relational network, shouldn’t you instead strive to get to know some people really well? Oddly enough, this can be accomplished in a church of any size.

The reality is that it takes risky effort to move from acquaintance status into relationship status. And this amount of effort does not change, no matter what size of church you are in. If the church you are in has one-thousand people, you will have to work at building relationships and chances are the church has set up environments and systems to help you do that. If the church you are in has two-hundred people, the process might look different, but the effort is still the same.

Myth 2: I will have “on-demand” access to my pastor in a small church.

I doubt it. Not if your pastor plans on staying sane and not if your church plans on growing. Your pastor has a limited span of care which is, strangely enough, about a dozen or so people. While there are less people who may need his help in a smaller church, he also has fewer staff and is likely wearing more hats. Plus, if he’s leading a new church plant, he is likely expending a tremendous amount of energy on development. And don’t forget that your pastor has a home life as well. (He might even practice Ju Jutsu in his spare time.)

If your pastor is really thinking about helping people, then he’s probably not dropping everything to rescue people or put out fires. He’s likely strategically planning how he can best serve the needs of so many people because he’s self-aware and knows his limitations. So he’s probably spending a lot of time training and mentoring leaders who can care for more people – kind of like what Jesus did when he discipled the twelve and sent out the seventy. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when your small church pastor shouldn’t drop everything to help with a crisis – but that’s very different than having an “on-demand” ministry.

Myth 3: Small churches are better than large churches because they feel more relaxed and less professional.

Small churches are neither better nor worse than big churches. They’re just smaller. Every size has its challenges and advantages, including sustainability, impact, governance, navigability, God-dependancy, economy of scale, specialization, and so forth. Different sizes naturally have different cultures and different ‘feels’ to them just by virtue of group dynamics.

Smaller churches can sometimes feel a little more quaint and a little more tarnished. But that doesn’t make the smaller church better – it likely just makes your pastor pull his hair out and makes some people decide that they won’t bring their friends back next week. The less polished feel of a smaller church is often unintentional and a result of being under-resourced – which smaller churches tend to be. Small churches give God their best every week. They just have less to give.

In fact, I would argue that small churches should never stay small on purpose because the DNA of the kingdom of God is designed for exponential growth. Remember the parable of the mustard seed? It’s about how a tiny microscopic seed can produce a giant plant. Jesus taught that this is what the kingdom of God is meant to be like. God wants your church to grow exponentially.

Unless a small church is continually reproducing other churches or ministries, it shouldn’t remain small just because it thinks that being small is better. I’m sorry, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that through Scripture. God has a plan for every church. It’s a plan that includes growth, reproduction, and multiplication. Will you join him in his kingdom plan?

Mission

Withness

There are two general postures a church can take in its local community – either “withness” or “themness”.

The “themness” posture says, “WE are here to help THEM. We are here to help THEM because without US, they would be in big trouble.”  Sometimes churches get very excited about changing, fixing or serving the world.  Often this a good thing, but sometimes it can be threatening, or perceived as arrogance.  In our post-Christian, postmodern era, the “we have all the answers and we’re here to rescue you” kind of posture is difficult for culture to track with.

I’m not saying the church doesn’t have something valuable to say or contribute. We are witnesses to the greatest story ever told aren’t we?  And besides, God has sent us to love and serve and share the good news with the world.  So please, don’t get me wrong.

But what if we changed our posture? What if we sometimes took on a “withness” posture?  This posture says, “WE are here to work WITH you to create something great.”  Would that change the dynamic of our relationship with our local community?

I mean, who would you rather work with? Someone with a “themness” posture or a “withness” one?  Ever participate on a work team project with someone who had all the answers to every problem?

A couple of weekends ago (June 22-23), I was able to see a lot of “withness” ooze from the pores of our Crosspoint church community. We had the privilege of participating in the Northeast Community Summer Festival in northeast Edmonton. This festival has been operating for multiple years and this is Crosspoint’s third year helping out.  The festival is organized by people representing a number of community organizations.  Two of our staff members served on this team and many of our people volunteered during the weekend.

It’s a very unique event – an open-crowd festival that focuses on fun, engagement, cooperation and community. People who stay for the day typically walk away with a greater sense of solidarity and belonging.  You can learn more about the festival here.For us, the best thing about the festival was that it wasn’t our idea.  Rather, it was already happening and we simply jumped in as learners and supporters. You might say we were practising our “withness” posture. By the end of the weekend, we walked away humbled by the creative ingenuity, tireless effort, and inclusiveness of our local community.There’s a significant spillover effect to practising “withness”.  We have built solid trust relationships within our community.  Our eyes have been opened to see our community in a different way – more as insiders and less as outsiders.  Our love for our community has grown because we are part of the community.  And perhaps we have shown our community that we care, not just by our willingness to serve, but by our willingness to learn and to be served.So a word to churches. To engage your local community, you don’t need to start everything. I’m not suggesting you stop hosting car shows, pancake breakfasts, and kids events. Personally, I’m a fan of big jumpy castles and bacon. I’m simply asking: why not find out what is already happening in your local community and support it? Exercise your “withness”. The greatest contribution you make might simply be to roll up your sleeves and honour what they are already doing.Churches that authentically engage their local communities from a posture of “withness” will inevitably gain a voice at the table. They have earned the right to be heard because they were willing to cooperate, listen, and serve. It’s called humility – and God’s a big fan of that.Churches, maybe it’s time to fess up. We don’t always know the best way to do things. We don’t have every solution to every problem that’s out there. We don’t have a corner on the market of creativity.  (And if the theological hackles on your neck are rising, just remember the doctrine of Common Grace.)  So maybe we just need to seek to understand before we are understood. Maybe by extending trust to our local community, they will trust us more. Doesn’t trust, after all, beget more trust?Remember, don’t stop your “themness”.  Just practice your “withness”.
Neighbouring

It’s a Portable Party

It’s a work of apostolic genius and I just have to tell you about it. It’s our Portable Party Pack (PPP).

Over a year ago our Glocal Team (global + local = glocal) asked a really great question: “What can we do to equip and encourage our Crosspointers to incarnate the gospel in their neighbourhoods?” Their brainchild was the PPP.

The PPP makes hosting a block party easier. If you really want to get to know your neighbours, a block party is a great step.  I’ll write more about block parties later, but if you want to get a head start, check out the website for The Art of Neighboring.  They do a fantastic job of showing you how to move from being strangers, to acquaintances, to relationships with those in your hood.  Buy the book – it’s a must read.  One interesting piece of trivia I found is that their block party kit was designed based on the kit put out by the City of Edmonton.  Way to go YEG!

If there’s one thing a church-plant knows, it’s how to be portable. When the PPP was first conceived, we wanted to make sure that we could build it as inexpensively and portable as possible. That’s really the genius behind the trailer. It’s incredible what actually fits in this one tiny box. First, there’s a huge BBQ that will cook a hundred hot dogs faster that you can sing the Oscar Mayer Wiener song. It actually collapses down to a height of 42 inches. We also managed to pack four durable plastic picnic tables inside – each of these collapse down to four inches in height. And I can’t forget the two canopies, two coolers, and four propane tanks, not to mention the propane heater that we will be mounting on top of the trailer. Seriously…it’s a portable party.

Crosspoint is taking seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbours. Sadly, we live in a day when many people can scarcely recall their neighbours’ names. How can you love your neighbour if you don’t know your neighbour? That’s why we’re training, equipping and mobilizing our people to love their neighbours.

The PPP is simply a tool that helps us show the love.  If you call the party, we’ll bring the party to you. Just make sure you book it in advance.  We have a team who will bring the PPP right to your party location and then pick it up the next day. Last summer the PPP was used thirteen times and we’re sure it will be used even more this year.  Not only was it used for block parties, but also for community events and feeding the homeless at a shelter.

You might be tempted to give us a call to see if you can borrow or rent the PPP.  Sorry, but it’s only for Crosspointers and their missional endeavours. Even if you happen to know a Crosspointer, they won’t be able to book it for you. It’s an insurance thing.  But more than that, it’s a clarity of vision thing.

However, if you want to know how to make one for yourself or for your church, we’ll gladly share everything we know.

Church Planting

To Build or not to Build

Once in a while I get this question about Crosspoint: “When do you think you will build a building?”  That’s a great question, so let me share my thoughts.  And just to clarify, what I assume people generally mean when they say “a building” is your typical church building: auditorium, offices, children’s space, and so forth.

First, let me tell you about the current reality of Crosspoint.  We do not own a building.  We gather every Sunday in a rented space (currently the Northgate Lions Seniors Recreation Centre) and lease a warehouse unit year-round.  Our Sunday location is a church planter’s dream.  It has two hundred parking stalls, a gym-auditorium, tons of class space for the kids, and a cafeteria that we can use as a coffee house.  We book it every Sunday morning, year-round.  (I have to add, the staff at the NGLSRC are fantastic to work with – kudos to the City of Edmonton and their people.)  If we had three hundred people show up on a Sunday (adults and kids), the place would feel very full.  We could conceivably host two gatherings on a Sunday morning, which means we could use this space comfortably for about five hundred people.  Like I said, a church planter’s dream.

The warehouse space we lease year-round (the Ministry Centre) is about 3000 square feet, which includes a large shop (to hold our trailer full of equipment), four office spaces, meeting room, two bathrooms, kitchenette, and some space in the back for future office cubicles.  The rent is minimal.  The downside of its location is that it’s not in the region of the city where our Sunday gatherings are hosted.  But it is literally impossible to get rented space in northeast Edmonton that can house our trailer.

Now, there are several advantages to not owning a typical church building.  The first is cost.  Owning and maintaining a building is expensive.  Because we rent, we can divert funds towards staffing and our external mission.  For the record, I’ve worked in churches where the question every month at the board meeting was, “How are we going to pay the mortgage this month?” rather than, “Who do we want to add to our team? What new apostolic initiatives do we want to start?”  It’s no fun being house poor.  Other advantages of renting include never having to clean toilets, and never having to worry about problems like maintenance, upkeep, taxes or security.

The greatest advantage, by far, is that not having a building actually reinforces our mission.  We believe that the church is the people of God, following God in his redemptive mission in the world.  That’s very basic missional ecclesiology, I know.  Yet it’s true to Crosspoint, to the core.  When you don’t own a building, you are forced to be creative with planning events, training workshops and gatherings.  Often you end up meeting in people’s homes (in neighbourhoods – imagine that) or in rented community facilities.  You don’t feel guilty because you have a building sitting empty during the week.  As a result, you can avoid the impulse of cramming the building full of ministry programs.  You also don’t have an auditorium sitting empty, which you have to pay to heat and cool.  And because people aren’t so busy attending your mid-week programming, they can be engaged in home groups or incarnating the gospel in the places where they live, eat, recreate and shop.

There are a few false assumptions about owning a building that I’d like to address.  One of them is that you will never have to set-up sound equipment or chairs.  Anybody who has ever been a sound person knows that you still have considerable set-up on any given Sunday, even if you own a building.  Plus, when you own a building, you still need people to make coffee, to set up children’s classrooms, to fold bulletins, and the list goes on.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the labour you subtract by minimizing set-up, you add in maintenance.  You’ll need to add custodial, groundskeeping and general maintenance to the list.

Some church plants dream of no longer having to set up chairs.  In our current location, we don’t have to set up chairs, so that’s not a concern of ours.  But why would you assume that if you owned a building, you wouldn’t have to set up chairs?  An auditorium that sits empty during the week is a tremendous waste of kingdom resource.  Churches of the future that want to engage the unchurched need to design buildings with their community in mind.  Why not “black box” your auditorium?  Why not make it into a room that can be purposed for multiple uses – much like the gym auditorium at the Northgate Lions?  Imagine if a church decided to design a building not just for their congregation, but for the community.  How missional would that be?  Of course, a multi-purpose space like that would need people who can set-up chairs…

To be practical, a church should never build until they’re certain it’s the right time.  Some churches might hurry to build, but then build something too small or too impractical.  They might build it for their immediate need rather than what they might need twenty years down the road.  Other churches build prematurely, but then end up being ‘house poor’ and can’t afford to hire staff or be engaged in the mission of God.  Timing, funding, stewardship and calling – all of these factors must be considered.

But here’s the most important factor to consider.  I think churches should only build something that aligns with their God-given mission.  The danger in building is that your building becomes the mission rather than helping you accomplish the mission.  I’ve seen churches build and the building becomes the focus of all their attention.  It’s all about funding the building, designing the building and then maintaining the building – and meanwhile the original apostolic mission slowly erodes away.  As Marshall McLuhan has said, “The medium is the message.”  Applied here, your building is the medium that can dictate the mission (message) of your church.  What message is it sending?  How is it helping to reinforce or confuse your mission?

For Crosspoint, we want to build so long as the building enhances our mission, not becomes our mission.  We are not against building.  We’re just uber pro-mission.  And if a building will help the mission and make God’s name great…then we’re all in.

Mission

Why Alpha Won’t Work

For millenia people believed in spontaneous generation (abiogenesis).  It’s the idea that living matter could spontaneously emerge from non-living matter.  So apparently mites could just appear from dust, maggots from rotten meat, and mice could appear from sweaty underwear and husks of wheat in an open-mouthed jar (I’m not making this up).  Thanks to early scientists like Redi, Needham, and Spallanzani the theory eventually went the way of my Commodore 64.

I love Alpha.  It’s a great tool to help people discover some of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.  It’s a great place to ask questions in an environment that is safe and enjoyable.  We’re in our second year of hosting Alpha at Crosspoint.

I have no problem with Alpha.  Yet I’m concerned with the expectations churches have about Alpha.  Like medieval scientists, they sometimes assume that if they just host an Alpha course, people will spontaneously appear.  I know plenty of churches that have tried it.  They did a great job of getting a venue together, recruiting and training volunteers, and advertising.  And nobody showed up.

The challenge is that churches don’t first develop a going and bringing culture.  We’ve only had a few people show up to Alpha as a result of advertising.  The majority of people who came (and who stayed) were invited by a friend.  Just hosting an Alpha is no silver bullet for helping people find their way back to God.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.  But if you first build an incarnational and invitational culture in your church, Alpha may work well for you.

So, first things first.  Teach your people how to GO…to incarnate the gospel in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, and friendships.  Help them understand that they are the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in this world.  Jesus left heaven and moved into the neighbourhood, and so should we.  Give them the tools to do this.  Host seminars.  Coach those who want to take it seriously.  But more than anything, if you are a church leader, you need to model this for your church.  Speed of the leader, speed of the team…

And can I just say – don’t make people so busy with church programs and events that they don’t have the capacity to build relationships outside of the church community.  If you want to learn how to streamline your church ministries, can I recommend Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger?

The single greatest challenge to the effectiveness of Alpha isn’t Alpha.  It’s church culture.  More about this later.