Thursday, March 13, 2014

Part 3: How to bust out 1,000 new churches without burn out!

Part-3 in a mini-series on our game plan for planting new churches...

There are several models, or "experiences" to planting churches well.  Which one is "best" is simply determined by a particular planter's giftings and the cultural terrain of a particular mission field.  Perhaps you've heard the old saying, "Success comes with the right planter at the right time in the right place with the right resources."  In other words, you can be a talented pastor, but if you're trying to plant a ministry in the wrong setting at the wrong time, your efforts will falter.  In many ways, that's why church plants fail more often than they succeed.

I planted Rejoice! in Northfield, Minnesota as a "storefront," or "conventional" church plant.  My initial salary was covered for the first 3-years by my mother church.   What a blessing that was!  It allowed me to fund-raise 100% for the work of ministry.  It led to Rejoice! being able to cover office and worship rental costs, some staff salaries and the purchase of lots of equipment.

All-in-all, planting a storefront church was wonderful.  A lot of work, but very wonderful.  Still, I don't think I would plant in the same manner today.  Why?

Because I believe its a new day for the church.  The Christian culture is no longer welcomed into the marketplace.  Some lament that, but I say it's giving us new opportunities to break-out-of our religious buildings and begin flooding the streets with the ministry of every-day-disciples conscientiously discipling others.  By not working inside the church building, we now have the opportunity to work outside the building--- demonstrating to nonbelievers what being Christian is really all about (read last week's blog for greater details on that statement).

I also believe the start-up costs for storefront or conventional plants have become so extreme that launching is very difficult.  (Unless, of course, you have a mother church like I did that is strong enough to sponsor you with some dollar-power).  Have you noticed a lot of 50 person congregations that got off to a fast start, then went flat?  With that in mind, I have a strong suggestion for our 800 existing LCMC congregations around the world: start training and launching MISSIONAL COMMUNITIES.  Or, as I would like to call them within the LCMC, "Transformational Communities."

Here are some bullet-point suggestions.  I will deepen these suggestions in future blogs:

-If every existing LCMC congregation were to first study, then train and implement at least one transformational community out of its own congregation and into the marketplace, our goal to plant 1,000 new congregations in the next 10-years would be met in one year!  Still, its not about reaching the goal of 1,000...but the goal of reaching new and more people.

-These Transformational Communities may, or may not be, led by an ordained pastor.  This takes the pressure off our clergy shortage and strengthens our existing churches by training our already mature Christian leaders to be congregational pastors.  In addition, these leaders often have better access to the city on a daily basis than clergy might.

-These Transformational Communities would be low in expense but high in impact.  They would not require the tremendous financial cost of buildings or worship equipment.  They may, or may not, include the expense of a paid lead pastor.  Offerings could lead to some salaries, but could also be seed money for sowing directly into a cities felt need.

-These Transformational Communities would allow every one of our existing congregations to be a major part of the LCMC vision to plant churches that reach the unreached and disciple them to share the gospel with others.  In other words, TC's are more directly focused on a cities felt need, a need that conventional churches just can't meet.

-These Transformational Communities would have their own respective names, reflecting their particular mission to the city.  For example, let's say "First Lutheran Church" of 200 worshippers births a Transformational Community called, "Heart for the Hospital."  This group of 20-30 people are dedicated to bringing the gospel to the local hospital--- working at blessing the medical and support staff, the board of directors and certainly the patients.

-When TC Christians rub elbows with non-Christians with no agenda to "make them" Christian, or "make them" join a particular church, it breaks the curse of non-Christians calling Christians "hypocrites" or "judgmental."  Instead, non-Christians begin getting intrigued by the fact that Christians are simply wanting to bless a city service, like a hospital, with no strings attached.  This new reputation in a city tears-down walls and opens people up to wanting to hear what Jesus has to say.  

-While these Transformational Communities would have their own name, the members would stay as "members" of the mother church.  "Heart for the Hospital" might share in its own kind of worship service and study while serving in the community, yet also participate in "First Lutheran's" Sunday worship service, or other congregational gatherings, etc.

-Depending upon the size of the church, or the size of the city, some Transformational Communities might even be deployed by the mother church to eventually live as their own missional body.  Still, the two are forever bonded as "family"--- supporting each other for the sake of the big picture: bringing the gospel to the city they share.

-Remember, the point of TC's can be at least three-fold: 1). They strengthen our current congregations with a renewed mindset for mission in the city, 2). The ultimate goal is not just to serve others, but to win them to Christ, 3). It creates a new paradigm of what "is" church and how it can be fluid and flexible to reach the unreachable.  

NEXT WEEK: I will share more about what our new LCMC Mission Team is being created to do.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Part-2: How to bust out 1,000 new churches without burn out!

Part-2 of a mini-series on how we will plant 1,000 new congregations...

While the LCMC vision is to plant 1,000 new congregations in the next 10-years, many of our 700-plus existing American churches are saying something like, "That's great and everything, but what about strengthening our current congregations before we start new ones!"

To that, I say, "I agree."  After all, if a husband and wife aren't doing well in their marriage, they need to first strengthen their relationship before having a baby together.  Otherwise, the baby is born without the love and provision of healthy parents.  Likewise, a church that is struggling in its relationship with Jesus and each other, needs to first strengthen its faith values before it can birth a new church.  Otherwise, the new church struggles and even dies with its parent church.

So, after last week's part-1 of this blog series, what are we to do as an association in order to strengthen our existing congregations, while also moving forwarding in our vision to multiply the influence of Christ?  The answer is quite simple: Obedience.  Easy answer, hard to do.

When we obey God's Great Commandment to love him, something in us changes.  We become like...Him!  We become like Jesus because to love God is to trust and follow the Savior so closely, he literally rubs off on us.  When that happens, loving others is way easier to do.  After all, its no longer me, but Jesus that is doing the loving through me!

When we obey God's Great Commandment, it then triggers us into His Great Commission to "Go and make disciples of the nations."  In other words, when I'm following Jesus, I'm taking his qualities into my areas of influence.  When that happens, others want what I have!  Of course, when I'm not following Jesus, I am simply doing rituals or religion.  They look nice, but have no lasting impact.

Friends: in order for the LCMC to really dig into the everyday marketplace of life to inspire an impact for Christ, we must simply practice something that comes hard to our flesh, but easy to our faith: obey the Great Commandment for the sake of the Great Commission.

So I have a winning idea--- a revelation from the Spirit.  Instead of getting hung-up on the thought that a new church start is something only an ordained person does--- with a big budget, big building and a big band, what if we first focused on loving God and loving people and discipling them through our daily examples of obedience to our Savior?  What if non-Christians began seeing you and I as something so counter-cultural they wanted to give it a try? What if they saw you and I with lives so full of peace and purpose, they dropped their notions that Christians are hypocrites and judgmental?

The best way for our association to birth healthy baby churches is to first be healthy parents.  That means no more fighting WITH people about inside-the-church-building matters, instead; fight FOR people on matters outside-the-church-building.  Indeed, practicing the Great Commandment and Great Commission will make us matter greatly in Christ--- inside and outside!

Next week: I will continue this mini-blog-series on our game-plan for planting a 1,000 in 10.  What if our existing churches, no matter the size, were to honor the Great Commandment and Commission by training and equipping our congregational leaders to launch missional communities into our respective cities?  I like calling them "Transformational Communities."  This is not another evangelism program, or just another small group teaching series.  TC's are new ministries coming to life from current, healthy, congregations--- able to do things for Christ the parent church can't do.  Please stay tuned for what that might look like for you!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Part-1: How we can bust out '1,000 in 10' without burn out.

Part-1 of a mini-series on a church planting game-plan for the LCMC.

Prior to 1945, churches planted churches in America.  Since then, however, too many churches have punted their reproductive rights to the responsibility of a denominational bureaucracy.  Since allowing that to happen, Christians have seen more churches die than be born.

A core value of the LCMC is to turn that tide and birth 1,000 new congregations over the next 10-years.  We are more than just a church with a great Mission (LCMission in Christ), but a great Mission looking for great LC churches!  Such a bold number of developing 1,000 in 10, however, is not to be measured by a worldly (or even a typical church) scoreboard, but rather by a kingdom scorecard.  For that to ignite, we must first receive and unite with the following vision:

1. To see our Lutheran-ness as a tool for missional transformation in Jesus Christ, and not vice versa.  In other words, let's make sure the M of LCMC doesn't stand for "Maintain Lutherans."

2. To see that millions are going to hell if we believers aren't willing to model a daily, life-saving, faith in Jesus.  In other words, let's learn to obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do in love.

3. To see the need for apostles and prophets be welcomed into the Lutheran leadership ranks, exercising all spiritual gifts so the whole church can gain greater momentum in the culture.  In other words, let's recognize Ephesians 4:11-12 as needed in our Lutheran-ness.

4. To see that our current paradigm of what "is" church, is probably on the soft-side of biblical.  In other words, church in the 21st century is going to look more like the 1st century church in order to be more effective.

Here are some ideas to see how all 4 of the above listed points might come to be:

A. Storefront, or conventional start-ups, will no longer be our main priority when we think of "new church plants." While this model has been the norm for hundreds of years, it may no longer be the most effective manner to change lives.  Besides, this particular model comes with the mentality that only an ordained pastor can lead the charge.  That would be wonderful except we have a clergy shortage and the harvest is plentiful!

Storefront models often start with the focus on money rather than mission.  Money is certainly needed when the primary focus is the development of stuff (such as: office and worship spaces, band equipment, staff, etc), rather than what kind of resources are needed to develop disciples.  I'm certainly not against the storefront start-up model; after all,  I planted a storefront church myself that led to programming, hired staff and building a facility!  To be honest, though, I wouldn't do it the same way if I were starting a church today.  I wouldn't focus so much on the Sunday morning worship experience as my main front door to the community.  Instead, I would move my energy and trained volunteers to bless and train other folks in the community to be fellow disciples.  The amount of money I had, or didn't have, would no longer drive the mission, but the mission would drive the mission.  Money would then follow (see last week's blog for more details on that).  My laptop and phone would be my office, located wherever I sat in the community.  In other words, the church goes from come-to the building for Christian consumer stuff, to going into the marketplace for public Christian relationship development.  Hmmm...

B. Jesus started a worldwide revolution that has lasted over 2,000 years--- and he didn't have programs or a building.  Instead, he had a plan and a purpose to disciple others who would then join him in the work of multiplication.  In fact, when the church began to build its own facilities 300-some-years after Jesus' resurrection, that's when the church started its decline from its earlier straight up influential trajectory!  Perhaps a more biblical, less expensive, more highly impactful new church start would be "missional communities"---  smaller, flexible and fluid groups of believers that simply serve, act, love, speak like Jesus within a city.  Think on this: people use to flock to Jesus.  Are people flocking to our churches today?  If not, it might be because we don't look like Jesus!

When we look like him, that's when laboring in Christ becomes our worship inside our spheres of influence.  That's when members turn into ministers and audiences transform into armies.  We no longer have to keep reinventing the wheel, but innovating it (see my previous blogs).  Here's a quick example: instead of always doing our own in-house programming to only bless insiders, let's join other so-called "secular" community services that are already in place---  serving as people of Jesus to the outsiders.  (By the way, when believers do something in Christ's name, how can it be considered secular any more!?)

Would the gospel and a public worship gathering still be shared through this paradigm shift of what "is" church?  Of course, but perhaps only after prayer has set the climate in the favor of the Spirit, after relationships and trust have been built, after people's felt needs have been attended too--- THEN we can proclaim the kingdom of God has drawn near! (see Luke 10:1-9 for Jesus' plan).  The previously unreached will then be reached, discipled, and empowered to disciple other people--- ALL starting outside the context of an expensive church/office facility.  Again with the hmmm...

I'm certainly not against nice buildings.  In Minnesota, our facilities keep the snow off our feet and rain off our heads.  But I ask, why build more facilities when there are so many already around us awaiting for us to reclaim them in Jesus' name?  Why focus on building new facility structures when its clear that buildings aren't drawing more people to Christ?  I know a church that meets Sundays in a YMCA because the facility is about as community-centered as they can get in that community.  This church, called "The Why Church," has no intension of ever moving to its own private facility.  After all, "why" pour millions of dollars into things, instead of mission?  "Why" move to a building that communicates being separated from the marketplace, instead of gathering in a facility that communicates Christian unity in the marketplace?  Please think on all that as we contemplate how we can have greater success in planting more life-impacting ministries.

NEXT WEEK: a more specific game-plan of how we will bust-out 1,000 in 10 without burn-out.  Don't miss! 

BIG NEWS!  We now have a newly formed MISSION TEAM for the sake of developing our association's vision to birth more kingdom-reaching churches.  I am excited to introduce to you the team of: Sean Kelly (California), Jonathan Haseley (New York), Jonathon Kosec (Texas), TJ Anderson (Ohio) and Nathan Anenson (Iowa).  These five pastors join me in developing a national  think tank for developing our missional movement.  As decisions are made and opportunities are created, I will be sure to let you know via this blog and our LCMC website.  Please keep this new team in your prayers!