When we felt the impulse to begin gathering a new kind of community of faith, one question seemed to dominate a lot of conversations - what is your strategy for growth? All our training in vocational ministry has taught us that this is a very important concern. By "growth" we often mean both numeric and spiritual growth, but mostly we're talking about attendance numbers. Growing the number of regular attendees (and especially regular financial supporters) is the lifeblood of any new church endeavor. Without this kind of growth, the organization cannot survive, since they will be unable to pay for meeting space, supplies for programs, etc.
American culture is largely based on principles of consumerism - we choose products to purchase and establishments to frequent based on value, customer service, and whether the company or product meets our needs (or wants). We often extend this into our faith experience. This creates an interesting dilemma for new communities of faith: they need new adherents to survive financially, and potential new adherents will make the decision to join the community based on an assessment of the services provided.
The modern study of "church growth" focuses on customer service and customer retention principles similar to those found in retail or service industries. Churches and communities of faith are trying desperately to create an environment that will be attractive to outsiders (both followers of Christ and not) and then move them through a series of steps to maturity in faith and involvement in the organization. This is a circular system that often results in a "corporate" feel - we have to keep building the organization in order to survive. This is also a relatively recent model compared to the totality of the history of the Christian church, and we are seeing signs that it has a limited future, even in America. The most startling of these is that, despite a well-defined industry of church growth theory, theology, consultation, and conferences, and even though many new "mega-churches" have sprung up in recent years, church attendance in America has been steadily declining for decades.
We are convinced we need a different plan.
One contributing factor is this: the system rests heavily on the assumption that those outside of the community (especially those who are not followers of Jesus) can be drawn into the system with the right enticements. Typical discipleship philosophies begin with attending church, then progress to a decision to follow Jesus, disciplines like giving and prayer, then getting involved in a ministry, etc. The progression's starting point is attending a church service or group. Our involvement in the community has shown us that those outside our community of faith are not attending a church on purpose - in fact, they're outright hostile to the idea.
If those we are trying to reach with the message of Jesus will not attend our gatherings, how will we reach them?
We believe the starting point of finding that answer is returning to a simpler model of church community, drawing on practices common to the early Christian church. This is the 21st century - not the first. We understand that the Information Age requires a different language and contextualization of the Message. But we are convinced that there are a few timeless principles the church of Jesus has always been based on. By focusing on these and attempting to avoid adding unnecessary corporate structure, we think it's possible to create a new kind of American community of faith - one rooted in ancient patterns and practices.
The simple truth is that nothing we are setting out to do is likely to create the type of weekly attendance at a gathering or the giving numbers required to support a traditional church model. We're okay with that. If you decide to be part of our community, you'll have to come to terms with that. We're not trying to build a gathering that attracts outsiders or a machine that churns out adherents. Here's what we are trying to do, drawn from what we see as the historical mission and purpose of the church of Jesus:
The mission of our community is to provide a place for followers of Jesus to gather for encouragement and equipment, then go out and do the work of "making disciples." We encourage each other to be involved in business, commerce, education, art, leisure activities, community service, etc. for the express purpose of developing relationships with those who are not followers of Jesus. The purpose of our gatherings is to support these efforts with prayer, accountability, teaching, training, and encouragement.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24, 25 NIV)
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:15-18 NIV)
Our leadership team is made up of volunteers. This is intentional, not just a necessity for a start-up. We are a community lead by practitioners - people with the ministry gifts of pastor, teacher, etc. but who also work outside the church to provide their own financial support. This provides two key benefits:
Paul and the other Apostles alternated between being fully supported by the local churches and providing their own financial support. We believe communities of faith in America could benefit from being led by player/coaches, so we're giving it a shot!
Jesus' church has always been tightly connected to acts of mercy, justice, and humility. When the council at Jerusalem welcomed Gentile believers officially, their only request was that these new communities of faith abstain from sexual immorality and idolatry and remember the poor. Jesus' canon of earthly teaching strongly emphasizes the centrality of compassion and acts of mercy; the need to reach out with kindness to the "least of these." Our goal as a community is to spend most of our time and money as a group reaching out to our communities with acts of compassion, mercy, and supporting justice. This will include local, and global initiatives. We will do so with the humility that comes from Jesus' example - He came to serve, not be served.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human ! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:5-8 MSG)
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 NIV)
Definitely! In fact, at some point we expect exponential growth. By focusing on teaching each disciple of Jesus to go and make other disciples, we believe the our community will grow as these new disciples are brought into community. Because our liturgy focuses on discussion and communion, our future growth plans include:
Sun. 5-6pmNorthgate Community Center
Free banquet, art, music. A short story about the life of Jesus will be shared at the end of each dinner.
Free to the public.
All ages welcome.
Ancient and modern hymns, The Lord's Table (communion) a short talk, and discussion.
All ages are welcome.
iTunes: Choose "File" then "Subscribe to Podcast". Paste in the url belowhttp://thetable.us/podcast