Church Planting Lessons

Darren from Melbourne has been so kind to share what he’s learnt on Church Planting. Here it is 6 parts with 10 lessons (with all the links and stuff) or just read my cut and paste together version below.

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Rich in a recent email wrote ‘I would REALLY like to get your insights some time about starting and maintaining a home church. For example, what resources have you found to be particularly useful?’

I ended up writing quite a long email back to Rich with 10 ‘lessons’ I’ve learnt over the last 12 months of starting the Livingroom. I found thinking through the process quite helpful, so thought I’d share what I wrote (with a few extra reflections) in a series here over the next week or so. Here is ‘lesson’ number 1 on DNA.

Hi Rich, I’m not sure I’m really overly qualified to answer the question as we’re only 11 months in and I guess the jury is still out on what we are doing and how sustainable it will be. I like to think that we’ll survive and even thrive this year, but you never know. What we’re doing is pretty fragile.
My ‘insights’ are pretty random and chaotic at the moment – but let me share some of what comes to mind.

1. DNA – Getting some sort of DNA/Core Values etc together has been really important for us. I would recommend that any group starting out take their time on working through this stuff as it is foundational. I’ve seen a number of new churches fall over because this was not done – it was assumed that everyone was on the same page, but when the time came to make important decisions there was a whole heap of different expectations on what the group existed for. For us this process centred around story telling – I think you will find descriptions of some of the process on the blog back in March sometime (here is one exercise we did using Timelines).

2. Mission needs to be central. – Too many churches (and individuals) have the attitude of having to have the worship, constitution, structure, preaching, buildings etc worked out before they do mission. In this sense they want to get their ecclesiology worked out before they work out their missiology. I believe this is the wrong way around. Ecclesiology should emerge out of missiology. This is the way I see it happening in Acts. The early church didn’t really have much worked out when it came to how they organized themselves when the Holy Spirit got them into Mission. As you do mission you begin to see what the church should look like. As you begin to interact with your wider community you begin to see what shape worship might take etc.

3. Read ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’ – by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. It is the best thing I’ve read written about missional church. Also I would recommend Ignition for any group starting out as a new group. It will give you a language to talk about Mission and help people to challenge some of their paradigms of church/mission. We ran it as our main meeting – I would suggest either running it as a separate meeting or to break it up a little with other stuff if you’re just starting out as it goes for 3 months and you might need to be also working on other things. I know of a number of groups who started with Ignition and ended up planting churches – its a great starting point that will give your group a great paradigm and language for mission.

4. Multiplication rather than Addition. So far this is only theory for us – we are yet to test it but I have seen other groups take the principles of multiplication and really have an impact. The principle is simple, rather than growing one large group by adding people to it one by one – start multiple new groups. When the initial group grows to around 12-15 (this is the number I’m thinking about for us – what number this is is up to each group and probably will depend on a number of factors) start to plan to start another group. I’ve seen this principle lived out in a couple of circumstances and the growth has been quite amazing. Neil Cole’s organization in the US has started around 400 communities in 5 years this way. If you put multiplication into the DNA of groups at the beginning their growth can be quite virus like. (I’ve written previously on the power of Multiplication here.

5. Simplicity – Replica-table (is that a word?) – in order for a virus to spread – the organism has to be pretty simple and easy to replicate in a variety of different cultures. By replicate I’m not talking about cloning but rather taking the DNA and allowing something new to emerge elsewhere.

For us – our DNA (our 3 Core Journeys) is pretty basic, but has the scope to express itself quite differently in different groups of people. For instance if our next cluster/community is birthed among café goers it will express itself quite differently to if we started a cluster among artists, or families meeting in homes etc. We’ve tried to keep things as simple as we can – not only in DNA but in gatherings etc. Renovare is also a great tool that helps with this – again it can be run in a variety of different groups very effectively effectively.

6. Incarnation – I’ve already hinted in the last point that we’re interested in different cultural groups. This is not because we want to keep people separate from each other (I hope that the different clusters that emerge our of Living Room will meet together regularly and be involved in a variety of activities in partnership) but because our approach to mission and church is incarnational.
Christ gave us a model for mission – he came and made himself a part of humanity – in particularly a culture within the human race. He learnt the language of that culture and operated from within the rhythms of it. This is an approach I believe we can take as we look at the different cultural groups in our midst. For us this is quite accentuated as I live in a very multicultural city with many ethnic and sub cultural groups. Mission (and then church) will look different in each of these groups as it takes seriously the culture. In the same way that we respect and work within the culture in overseas contexts when we do mission (these days) we should also respect and work within the subcultures we move in here in Melbourne.

Instead of converting people and dragging them from their host culture back into the church (where they will become like us) – the Incarnational approach is to GO into the world and make disciples there.

7. Sending vs Attractional approach – Central in the idea of incarnation is ‘going’. Churches often take a very ‘attractional’ approach to mission. They say things like – ‘if we just tweak what we do or look like more people will come’. If the band plays a different style music, if the car park is bigger, if the foyer is a warmer color, if our preaching is better – people will come.

I’m not sure how biblical this is. Christ said – GO into all the world and make disciples where you find them. Of course the ‘attractional’ models do ‘work’ with a certain percentage of the population – but I think in Australia this percentage is shrinking. I’m excited that more and more churches are gathering ‘in the world’ rather than hoping that the world will come to them.

8. Participation is key. This is something I have learnt but also something we at Living Room can work more on. Church has been too passive in most settings for too long. I don’t see the call of Jesus as being passive at all. All members of Livingroom participate in what we do almost every week. This happens best in the meal we eat in that everyone is responsible to bring something to the table whether it be a main dish, bread, wine, sweets or fruit. Even new people are asked to bring something on their first or second week. Participation can and should extend beyond this to the gatherings themselves. Worship, learning, prayer etc can all be very participatory. Even very reflective meditative exercises can become a group process with the right debriefing.

9. Community – Shared life. Read Acts 2 and you get a picture of a dynamic community of people who are very involved in each others lives. Community extends beyond a cup of coffee after a service or a ‘sharing time’ at the end of a bible study. It includes these things, but I think we need to be striving to really know each other. To go around the group and say one thing that happened to us this week seems a rather empty expression of community – shouldn’t we already be aware of what is going on in others lives because we’ve been connecting with them and sharing life already? This is a challenging one for us – we live in a culture that is very individualistic, to break the patterns takes intentionality.

10. Have fun – Ok, this might not be the most technical lesson or one you’ll find in too many books – but if the process isn’t life giving and enjoyable people are not going to want to be a part of it. Let your creativity run rampant. Try new things, keep them surprising and unpredictable (Jesus did). Eat lots of good food, drink some good wine, enter into the celebrations of your culture, watch movies together go on trips as a group, laugh lots and enjoy one another’s company. Don’t be too serious – life’s too short.
Well those are the 10 things that came to mind when Rich asked me for my ‘insights’ – by no means are they exhaustive – some of it is tested and other parts are works in progress.

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