Monday, April 25, 2016

Missional Communities Part Two-- The Rhythms of Movement or the Movement of Rhythms

One of the primary questions I answer from people new to C3 or trying to understand what makes this DNA unique is WHAT DO MISSIONAL COMMUNITIES LOOK LIKE?

I think that this question is a good one but there is a more important one to ask: WHAT IS THE END RESULT WE'RE HOPING TO ACHIEVE IN THESE COMMUNITIES?

I will try to answer both.

Beginning with the end in mind is something we often fail to do. The end game for us is to be a discipleship culture that is replicating at every level with both quality and quantity.

My experience is that many churches have this as their stated aim, but then allow their systems to betray them. For instance, some small group systems, while great at transferring ideas and information and fostering community among Christians insulates Jesus people from the broader culture and makes it very difficult for folks who are not familiar with church culture to 'break in'. This culture is not the healthiest version of a discipleship culture. Two reasons:

1. Instead of being sheep sent out among wolves, we are sheep that stick with sheep and make others behave and act like sheep in order to join the flock. This notion that you have to believe in order to belong is problematic, intimidating and exclusive for someone who is on the perceived "outside" of the group. The Missional Community culture we are seeking to create at C3 is one where no matter what we do, someone far from God or far from the Christian sub-culture can feel welcomed and feel like they matter. I'm not sure how we got on this road where we claim to follow the one who dined with sinners and try to take the sinners out of the equation or at the very least make them clean up before they sit at the table. You are allowed to belong without belief. A community that isn't invitational is something short of a Christ honoring community.

2. These communities rarely have any type of missional purpose. Many times, they fail to do kingdom things. So they might find a safe place to share about their marriage or their fear or to learn about the Bible but the muscles of kingdom agency aren't worked out at all and atrophy settles in. Without those muscles being stretched and build up, the cozy, complacent culture that is based on what we know rather than the kingdom reality we orient our lives around starts to take root. Do we pray for healing over people (in our group and out)? Do we care for the poor and the marginalized in our city/world? Do we share and live out the good news with People of Peace in our neighborhoods, workplaces and communities? A community that isn't activational (made up word) when it comes to doing the things of Jesus is something short of a Christ honoring community.

So for C3, being invitational and activational are critical pieces to the story. Because of this, we have rhythms, or predictable patterns that ensure that these core values are upheld. If we say that we want to be a church for people far from God or people who don't like church, then we better not break out a guitar and do hour long Bible Studies week in and week out. That stuff is creepy and inaccessible to someone who has never done it. So, what are the rhythms? There are 4 of them. They all start with S. And that is how you know they are from God...because alliteration!

SUBSTANCE or Study...even though we want everyone to feel welcomed and not be creeped out, we are still unapologetically Christian. No bait and switch. No misleading or hiding anything. But when we do things to connect to God they need to be done with intentionality, explanation and accessibility. Intentionality is the strategic piece. How do I make this relevant to both the lifelong Christian and the one who has zero interest in being a Christian? Explanation is the language we use to unpack what we do. I'm not opposed to singing or studying the scripture, but these moments need to be done with clear explanation. "As Christians, we have sung our faith for two millennia. It has been something that has been passed from generation to generation, so tonight we sing our faith to link arms with 2000 years of Christians. You can listen to the words and reflect on them or once you've caught on to the tune, feel free to join in singing."

SOCIAL...If we are really trying to create a culture that is about FAMILY on MISSION, then we need to be high play and high purpose. We should laugh together...have fun together...enjoy each other. So we have a consistent rhythm of having fun. Throw parties that are epic and creative and that people want to be at. Do events and outings that will allow for fun to be had and that are easy for people to invite their friends/people of peace to join in. Rotate from one household to the next having block parties to connect with neighbors.

SERVE...Do kingdom things that have the potential to build relational equity. (See part one of these Missional Community posts). Think partnership. Think long term. Think trust building. Go where there are people of peace who welcome you into their story.

SABBATH....Sometimes, the community just needs space to catch their breath. It's not lazy or slacking off, it's simply giving margin to a culture that is starving for it. Maybe this week is a week to connect with people of peace in organic ways over dinner or drinks. Maybe its a family night where you just spend the time as a family, having fun and quiet. Margin is Good news not guilt inducing. Give people space and pace. You can go further faster with a rhythm of rest built in.

These four rhythms are purposefully simple and reproducible (only things that are simple and reproducible can lead to the transformation of culture.) We are a church that believes in being Low Control and High Accountability. So we will not dictate when a Missional Community needs to have a certain rhythm, but we hold them accountable to having each of them at least once in six week period. So the leaders get to discern what their people need. Maybe it's a season where they need to welcome new folks in and be high on relationship building, so they hit it hard in the Social rhythm or maybe they've gotten an influx of new folks committed and now its time to do a little bit of development and teaching so maybe then they focus a little more intently on Substance.

By having these rhythms we allow people to participate in UP (connection to God), IN (connection to community), and OUT (connection to the Kingdom).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Missional Communities Part 1--People or Place?

Thought I'd throw a few thoughts down regarding Missional Communities that we have been processing at C3.

So first, a definition, for C3, Missional Communities are groups of 15-40 people who do life together (Family) and serve a specific context together (Mission). And contrary to what some would suggest, Size Does Matter! Smaller than 15 causes a sociological shift in the dynamics in the group that makes it function more like a small group and less like a family on mission. I will say more in the future about why the larger group is preferred.

One of the points of discussion I've seen recently is whether your Missional Community should be organized around a cause (place) or a neighborhood/network (people).

Here's the general back and forth:

"It shouldn't be organized around a place, because you can paint a wall over and over but it will never become a disciple."

"It shouldn't be organized around a people, because when you make a person your mission, they don't seem to like it. Because they become projects, not people."

I think both of these arguments actually have validity, that's why it's not either/or. We need both.

You need a mission. For us, the serve must be grounded in two things, 1) Is it close to the heart of God? (Is it something that we can see clearly in the Scriptures that matters to God and should matter to us.) 2) Is there relational equity? (Painting a wall or picking up litter are nice things, but let's not confuse them with loving our neighbor.)

So, our MCs have a missional focus. The one I lead seeks to invest in children and families and teachers at an inner city school. We want them to feel supported and cared for. At first the relationship was minimal, but relational equity is built through trust and trust is gained in inches (and lost in miles). So we have tried to do whatever the schools have needed so they know we care about them. No strings attached. Just love. And the trust has increased (we were honored as the Outstanding Community Partner to the entire family of schools in Columbus last year!) Children matter to God, so they matter to us.

Another MC adopts refugee families who move to Columbus and help them acclimate to the city, to learn English, to have a move-in ready apartment.

Another MC works with a local organization to help support and provide for local victims of human trafficking.

Still another MC works with an organization that cares for families with kids with terminal or chronic diseases to help them feel more like families and less like patients or diagnoses.

Care for children, foreigners, the exploited and the sick. All of those are close to the heart of God.

The cause matters.

But we want people to join us in doing the things that matter to God, so rather than making someone into a project (which is not close to the heart of God), we invite people into the mission with us. Time and time again, people who aren't particularly interested in the "churchy" stuff of going to C3 on a Sunday or talking about faith/the Bible during the week, are willing to help out with causes bigger than themselves. They may not understand or endorse the whole faith thing, but caring for those on the fringes of our city is something many people will help out with.

Sometimes joining a cause (Mission) with a group of people (Community) is the path to discovering faith.

Is it a place? Absolutely! Where are you called to be good news to the city you live in?

Is it a people? Absolutely! Who are you supposed to invite to be good news with you and how can you give value to the people you are serving?

If it's Family or Mission, we've missed something!
If it's Family as Mission, we've made people into pawns.
But if we can chase Family on Mission, it invites people to be who they are, where they are and to join in the story of a better Author, whether they trust his penmanship or not.

Belonging precedes Believing.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

4 Church Planting Elephants

*This post is more for those thinking about planting a church or who have already done it.

We are three years in as a church plant and it has been the most thrilling and devastating thing our family has ever done. I think there are some elephants in the room that we either avoid, neglect or are ignorant about that might be worth talking about when it comes to church planting. Ergo, a blog post.

Elephant #1 Three Years to Self Sustaining is the Exception not the Norm

Many of the church plant models that are out there suggest that if you fundraise and front load the new plant with resources, then the clock starts ticking and when 3 years has expired, boom you should be self-sustaining, in need of no external support or bivocational efforts to keep the thing moving. The elephant is that unless you're reaching a large number of churched folks and getting them to join your church, this model is seldom true. I'm not antagonizing churches who gather lots of Christians from other churches or who are transplants to the new area, but many planters say that they want to be a church for people who don't like church. Some folks are genuinely chasing that. Others are over promising and under delivering and they end up with a majority of Christians, which DRASTICALLY effects the kind of church DNA that you will pioneer.

If you want to reach people who are far from God, then generosity will often take a bit longer to cultivate. Plan on 5 years of external fundraising not 3.

Elephant #2 Brand Hype is not the same thing as Discipleship

I am still waiting to meet the person who got the postcard in the mail about the new church in town and said, "Wow. I hated Jesus, but then this post card came and I went to church and gave my life to Jesus." Bumperstickers, door hangers, yard signs, paying to have your website be at the top of search results, all that stuff is really good at drawing a Christian culture to leave their current context and go to your context. Some churches spend tens of thousands of dollars each round of marketing they do. I'm probably in the minority here, but don't try to find the market, do the things of Jesus and the market will find you. The elephant is that often, the churches with the largest front doors also have the largest back doors. I'm not knocking large churches. I may however be knocking brand-hype large churches.

Relational Equity is the right way to grow a church. I want people to say they are part of C3 because others have loved them, have invited them, have invested in them, have baptized them, have laughed with them, have wept with them, have served them and have blessed them. I don't want people to say they are part of C3 because they put on quite a production or because they are the flashy/sexy thing in town or because the pastor is epically charismatic. Do the Jesus things to get the Jesus culture. Don't try to hype it, polish it or brand it. Jesus is enough...without a strategic rebranding/redesign of his image.

Elephant #3 The Church Planter is the Greatest Weakness and the Greatest Opportunity in the Church Plant

More often than not, church plant assessment centers are looking for entrepreneurial, self-starting, motivated, extroverted, life of the party folks to start churches. This in some ways is a no brainer, as you need pioneers to pioneer something. But the other reality is that the entrepreneurial, self-starting, motivated, extroverted, life of the party folks are sometimes the ones more vulnerable to significant character deficiencies. The same impulse that can get something started can also derail a leader into pursuits that are not good. The same self-confidence that can gather people can become a toxic narcissism that leads to control or to people pleasing which can swiftly derail the movement of God. These personality types can come across abrasive, arrogant, unaccountable, and controlling.

I believe that much of what happens in Church Planting is about God shaping and reaching the planter, not shaping and reaching the city or culture. The Church Planters who thrive for a lifetime are the ones who are teachable in and through this fire. The one's who bank on charisma and competency over character will implode or at the very least, plateau. People may enter in because of dynamic personality. They will stay for the long haul because of what God is doing IN and THROUGH the leader. If the leader isn't growing in this, it will be found out.

I lost my mom to a stroke on our first Sunday as a church. We have had an uphill battle with our daughter who had a massive heart attack at 10 weeks old. Every milestone for C3 has been met with a milestone of heartache for our family. But who God has shaped me to be in the midst of that has been incredibly important to the culture and DNA of our church.

I was on a summer mission trip in which we spent time getting to know people's stories and see if God is opening doors to share Good News. While we were on a beach connecting with people, we ran into the pastor of the church we had begun attending and he was doing the same thing we were. Find the one who is living a life worth imitating not the one who simply tickles your ears from a stage.

Elephant #4 Discipleship Will Not Get Celebrated

As much as Christians emphasize discipleship as a primary motivator/statistic to plant churches, the things that will be honored and celebrated and written about are always going to be the churches with record attendances and large numbers of baptisms. These are not bad things at all. But they are not neccessarily discipleship either. There aren't too many books getting written about the church that deliberately goes slow and spends months or even years investing in the few to reach the many. There is a continual temptation to sacrifice the slow, intentional culture to get the results and the reports that will gain the attention and publicity. I used to want the validation and affirmation from the masses. And it's amazing how quickly I will seek to gain the world and lose my soul.

If you can't define what a disciple is, how can you set up a church that makes them? If you can't paint a picture of where you're going, how do you know how to get there?

Begin with the end in mind. If disciples is what you want, then tell that story with intentional, reproducible patterns and systems. If a large gathering is what you want, then that is a very different process (and in my opinion is quite a bit easier to pull off).

These are just a few of the elephants I've come across. Is there one that you'd add?