Sunday, April 29, 2007

Now What? Growth

Well, now, after three solid months of discussing the vision on a weekly basis, I've shared all I can at this point about who, what, when, where, why, and how we want to become actively involved in planting churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. The vision is a long-term goal that still lives in the future, and there's only a limited amount of information that anyone knows about the future.

I'd like to begin shifting gears a little bit in the blog, talking now about what we need to focus on as a church in the present in order to see the vision accomplished down the road.

One of the most crucial components of making the vision a reality is growth in our church. To invest in the establishment of another congregation, it is going to require a significant amount of sacrifice from us; however, we can afford to make that sacrifice if we grow larger than we currently are. Specifically, we are going to need to grow in the following areas:

  • Attendance
  • Salvations/Baptisms
  • Members
  • Small Groups
  • Leadership

I want to tell you that we are already making progress in many of these areas. For instance, our average weekly worship attendance in 2005 was 108; in 2006, it was 117 (+8.3%); and so far this year it is 134 (+14.5%). On March 25, we brought in 15 new members and baptized 4 people. The number of LIFE groups continues to increase; last year at this time, we had 5, and now we have 10, including 2 small groups for youth. We are also into our first phase of leadership multiplication, involving new elders and Church Council members.

All of this is very exciting! All of this is an answer to prayer! And all of it deserves gratitude and praise to God for his faithfulness to us!

However, we should not assume that we have arrived yet. There is still much more work to do because we are not yet large enough to be a church that can afford to invest people, leaders, and money into a new congregation.

We need especially to focus on reaching out to the unchurched people in our community. We need to connect with people who do not currently have an active relationship with Christ, and reconcile them to God. This is the preferable way to grow, instead of recruiting people from other churches--that does nothing to grow the Kingdom of God, it only shuffles sheep from one pen to another.

So I want to encourage you to keep inviting your unchurched friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to join you for church. Let them know that they'll find their time to be well-spent and different than they expect. Let them know that this is a place where they can be accepted for who they are and can come and experience God.

When we have events open to everyone, like Soccer Camp coming up this summer, encourage the families and children in your neighborhood to come. Follow up with them and invite the family to church afterward.

Many people assume that it's the pastor's responsibility alone to bring in people, but studies show that 80% of people who attend church came as a result of an invitation from a friend or family member. Reflect on your own spiritual journey... Was it a pastor that brought you into the church? More than likely, it was someone you had a close personal relationship with. This is a job that falls to all of us; we all are called by God to make disciples (Matthew 28:18).

Are you doing your part? Are you inviting people to join you at Pathway on this spiritual journey? It takes all of us working together to grow our church, to prepare the way for God's vision for our church to become a reality, to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. Let's keep at it, knowing that we are serving and working for God and his glory!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Q&A: When Will We Plant A Church?

Since I started this blog, we've essentially been looking at questions surrounding our church's vision to become actively involved in church planting to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. First we talked about why, and we examined five different reasons why we should pursue this vision. Then, we explored other questions, like who, where, and how. Today, I'd like to share with you some thoughts about a timeline for when this might take place.

First off, I think it's important to understand that there's a critical balance that must be maintained between making plans and following God's timing. Without a plan, nothing will happen; no one has ever accomplished anything noteworthy that was not first made a goal, planned for, and then implemented. On the other hand, we gain nothing by sanctifying our own deadlines and ignoring God's leading. We must bathe each step in prayer, attentive to God's direction, and alert to whether we have the resources to accomplish the vision he's given us.

No matter how much we devote ourselves to the vision, God is still the owner of the vision--it is not the property of any individual or group, or even the church as a whole, but God's alone. We must follow his guidance and direction if we are to fulfill it successfully.

So, the question of when really becomes two questions:

  • What prevents us from planting a church right now?
  • How soon could we expect to clear away those obstacles?

Right now, we see three main obstacles that prevent us from planting right away (and some smaller issues that we are working on as well):

  • A Healthy DNA--If we want to reproduce, we need to make sure that we ourselves are healthy first. Church health is a rather complicated issue, but I believe we are really close on this one. Our main area to improve in is bringing in unchurched people and introducing them to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We have seen some of this, but we need to do more to be a fully healthy church.
  • Leadership Multiplication--We want our church plant to have every chance to thrive, so we will be giving them many of our qualified leaders. In order to be able to do that, we need to train and develop new leaders to take their place. We have developed a leadership multiplication plan for both elders and Church Council members, but it will take some time to increase our overall leadership pool.
  • Logistical Preparedness--The first thing we need is education and training for our church leadership about the church planting process. Once we gain more information and tools that will help us know how to proceed, we will need to select a community in which to plant, identify a planting pastor, assemble the launch team, and develop the details of the launch plan.

One other issue that comes into play if we choose to pursue the partnering model would be to assemble a network of churches to join us

In addition to these things, we need more money and people in general, but these things are really byproducts of having a healthy DNA. Healthy churches grow, and they produce spiritually mature individuals who understand the spiritual ramifications of giving to God's work. God knows we need these things, and I am confident that he will have them in place for us at the right time. The other issues I mentioned are all ones that we can affect directly; however, we can't make people attend or give money. So we are leaving those areas up to God to lead, guide, and provide.

All of this leads us to the question: How soon can we clear away these obstacles? I mentioned in the Vision Packet a target date of 2010--just three years from now. I still consider this to be ambitious, but achievable. We may have to revise that timeline if any of these areas lags behind where it needs to be, but my goal will continue to be to give birth to a new church as soon as it becomes reasonably prudent to do so.

Please be in prayer for these three major areas that we need to work in. Consider what God may be leading you to do personally to contribute toward the vision, such as:

  • Joining the Pathway Prayer Posse;
  • Inviting your unchurched friends and family to come to Pathway;
  • Pursuing a leadership position in the church;
  • Making a financial investment in the vision

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Q&A: How (exactly) Will We Plant?

As I mentioned in the Vision Packet that was handed out at the State of the Church Address in January (you can swing by the office and request one if you didn't pick one up), there are a variety of methods that are used by churches that want to plant new churches.

  • Daughtering--One church giving birth to another fully separate congregation
  • Partnering--Two or more churches working together to launch a new congregation
  • Multi-Campus--One church, meeting in more than one location
  • Satellite--One church, developing an off-site ministry with the goal of developing that ministry into a new church
So far, there has still been no decision made as to which method we might use, but this is probably the next decision on the horizon as we move forward with this vision. Initially, the elders and I were thinking primarily of the daughtering model, but as we have gained more familiarity with the world of church planting, we are discussing the other models as well. They each come with their pros and cons, so we need to evaluate each one in light of the situation of our church.

Right now, we are discussing the Partnering model as the probable way for us to go. Here are several reasons why:
  • Working with other churches enables us to share the cost (investing people, leadership, and money), rather than absorbing it all ourselves. This means that we can be involved in church planting sooner; we don't need to first grow into a large church if there are others who are helping carry the load.
  • Working with other churches enables us to plant more often. With multiple churches spreading the burden around, the recovery time is less painful and takes less time. This means that after our first plant, we will hopefully be ready to plant again after a short while.
  • Working with other churches makes a statement to the community of Jackson and the world about the unity of our churches. It demonstrates that we are on the same team, rather than competitors with one another. The priority is to build the Kingdom of God, not one individual church's empire.
  • Working with other churches makes it easier to ignite a spiritual movement in Jackson County. By bringing more churches on board, it means more people are praying, more people are contributing, more people are invested and involved. More people working together is a more powerful spiritual force.
  • Working with other churches makes sense, considering the various networks of churches that already exist in Jackson County, such as the Emmaus Community, Allies Youth Pastors Network, and the Intercessors of Jackson County. These can potentially be used to build a network of churches united behind the vision of church-planting.
  • Working with other churches is the method that is recommended by our denomination's Director of Church Multiplication, Tom Blaylock. He has been involved with other teams of churches that have partnered together for the purpose of church planting and has seen some amazing results that have come out of such networks.

There are some challenges that come with partnering as well. It's not all sunshine and roses. Different churches will probably have different ideas about what kind of a church to plant. There may be disagreements about doctrine, or who should be the planting pastor. There is also the issue of leadership--in any sort of venture like this, someone needs to be the pointperson, and that in itself can create friction.

It's certainly possible that by the end of our discussion, we may decide to go with a different model. Please continue to pray for us that God would grant us wisdom and order our steps. Yet I am cautiously excited that God's plan may include tearing down denominational boundaries that have separated us, and that many churches across Jackson County may be united in working together to advance his kingdom! Above all, please keep praying for God's will, and that whatever path we choose would be the best one for bringing him the greatest glory and honor.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Spring Break

Hey all! I just wanted to let you know that after all the events of the morning and being with family all day, I decided to take the rest of Easter off and not make a post on my blog yesterday evening. I appreciate you checking in--be sure to tune in next week as we look at the question, "How?" We'll explore the different methods of church planting and discuss which might make the most sense for us.

God bless!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Q&A: Who Will Go With The Church Plant?

In this continuing effort to answer common questions that people have regarding our vision--to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family--this week I want to tackle the question of Who?

Like I said last week, it's important to remember that these answers are still tentative at this point. What I'm sharing with you is some of the discussion among the elders and other leadership that is still very much in process. But I believe that it's important to keep each of you informed with where we're headed, so that you can pray for God's wisdom and direction for our church.

I have already stated that I will NOT be going with the church plant. There are many reasons for that, but the biggest one is that I believe it will be important for PCC to have continuity in leadership in the time period after birthing a new church. It is certain that we will be investing heavily in this birth, and there will be a needed recovery time. I want to make sure that I am here to continue to see the church through this whole process.

I will not be going, but who will? That question will need to be answered by each individual family in the church when the time comes. I'm trusting God to raise up some people in our church who will be willing to be part of this new church. Generally speaking, these should be individuals who meet the following criteria:

  • Possessing a belief that God desires they be a part of this new church
  • Committed to outreach and personal inviting
  • Willing to give at least 10% of their income to the new church
  • Eager to serve in the ways that God has shaped them
  • Able to persevere through the challenges and obstacles of a start-up church

These are the kind of people it will take to make a new church work. It takes a lot of effort and commitment, a sense of God's leading, and some personal sacrifice. This new church will need people who believe that the costs are tiny in comparison to the eternal gains of making a dent in the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.

In essence, I'm expecting that this venture is going to take from us some of the individuals among us who possess the greatest amount of faith and the highest commitment to God's kingdom, people who give and serve more than the average, and who are the most determined. All of this means that there will be some great opportunities for us who remain! There will be many places for us to be used in crucial ways.

One possibility that we will be exploring is for Pastor Brent to be the planting pastor. He will need to complete a Church Planters Profile, a diagnostic tool designed to help evaluate whether an individual has the right make-up to be a successful church planter. He would also have to receive training and education in leading a church plant. But if it works out, we are excited about this possibility for many reasons:

  • He is well qualified to be a senior pastor.
  • He already has a clear understanding of PCC's mission, vision, and values.
  • He already has many developed relationships within the church, making it easier to lead, direct, and work with other leaders.
  • We can be assured of a great ongoing relationship between the two churches.
  • If selected, he is committed to leading the new church to become a parenting church as well.

Whoever goes or stays, the important thing to realize is that no one will be lost. We will not lose people, we will not lose leadership, we will not lose relationships, we will not lose servants. None of these things will be lost--they will be invested. We are investing these things with the goal of receiving a much, much greater eternal return. It will be hard, but what makes it worth it is realizing that the purpose of the church is to reach out to those who do not know Jesus, and we will be increasing our reach by birthing a new congregation.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!