Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Update on New Roots and Woodbury

It's been a while since I've posted, but I want to keep folks up-to-date on what's going on with new church.

 New Roots: New Roots Ministries (the name of the ministry in Northern Cass Country, North Dakota) continues to go well. In an email to New Roots families and supporters Pastor Wade Miller explained what was going on at New Roots during Holy Week:
I am writing to all of you because of the exciting service we have set up for tomorrow's Family-friendly worship and After-School ministry. I believe it is a great addition to any of the Holy Week services you might already be planning on attending, and a great way to begin our Easter Celebrations. During our After-School ministry, we will focus on two vitally important stories for Christians to understand, one from the Old Testament and one from the New...Passover (God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt) & Easter (God delivering Christians from slavery to sin/death). Our after-school ministry begins at 3:45 in the library and goes to 5:45. Just a reminder, we always make sure there is time for our kids to work on their homework and reading as well as time for fun & games and teaching... Then, we will clear the tables and begin a very different kind of worship. Instead of gathering in the auditorium and hearing a message, we will set the tables for a Seder-inspired family worship. The Seder (literally, "order") is a meal that started after Jesus' time to help Jewish families teach the story of the Passover. When Jesus gathered his disciples for the Lord's Supper on the night before he was arrested, tried, and crucified, they gathered to celebrate the Passover. The words might have been different. The "order" may not have been the same. But it was the Passover story that reminded us that God has always been faithful, and (even though we still stumble) delivers us from slavery to evil and sin! You will certainly have something to talk about with your friends and family! And, hopefully, we will all learn just a little more what it means to be an Easter people!
Please take some time to visit New Roots website or it's Facebook Page to keep up with their progress in sharing Christ in Northern Cass!

 Woodbury: If all goes well, a new congregation should start in the Eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities later this year. Woodbury Christian Church is in its planning stages being led by Mike Brady, a Licensed Minister and long time member of First Christian Church in Minneapolis. Mike is busy finding rental space for the new community and has a small grant from the Region to help in getting this new ministry. Visit WCC's Facebook Page to learn more about this new seed that's growing in Woodbury! There are still other possibilities that are still in the early stages. I will share more as time passes. Please keep New Roots and Woodbury in your prayers. May God bless them as they share the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Helpful Tips for Church Planters

In December of 2006, Community of Grace, the church plant I started, was approaching the end of its life.  I decided to write a blog post on what I had learned and I'd like to share this with other planters.  These tips are not the end all and be all; some people might do the opposite of what I suggested and turn out okay.  But this is what I picked up during that time, my experiences and impressions that I want to share.  

By the way, this was supposed to be a two part blog post.  I never did write part two.

  Community of Grace is facing a crossroads of sorts. Attendance has fallen off significantly, and the leadership is just plain exhausted. We have decided to enter a time of discernment and see what happens in the next few months. If nothing changes by May 2007, we will make a decision to end the current form of ministry.

As that time draws near, I’ve wondered what things could have been done differently. I’ve been thinking that if I do this again, or even continue this is some other form, there are some things I would do that I didn’t do this time around.

Gather a group of committed people willing to help plant a church with you. When I started CoG back in 2004, I asked some people who were interested in starting a church and people did show up. However, many of them were not people who committed. That’s nothing against them, it was just this was something they were curious about, but not interested in doing this in the long term. I would spend some time finding people from all walks of life who are interested in planting a church. I wouldn’t only look for church going people, but even those who are curious and willing to stick it out in the long run.

The thing is, having more people that are church planters put less pressure on the pastor and make it a more community building event. Having to carry a church on your shoulders only leaves you tired.

Pray. Yeah, I know this sounds pretty pathetic, but I failed to spend a lot of time in prayer and I didn’t encourage those who were with me, like my co-pastor, to come together in prayer. Prayer isn’t some kind of magic, but it does keep us grounded in God and without it, you start to get really frustrated, really easily. And I did.

Have no other churches before you. Another problem is that I was still involved in another church, as was the co-pastor. It gave the idea that CoG was more a hobby than a real ministry. If I did this again, I would give up membership with my old church and focus on the new church.

Make sure to secure funds for the church. The fact that we had no way to pay staff hurt us. We relied on our denomination for money, but they could only give so much. It was also hard to get others to give, because many thought that was the denomination’s job. Evangelical churches can do a whole lot better in getting financial support. If I did this again, I would basically come up with some kind a spiel that would give people a vision and a way to latch on. A church staff does this for love of God, but they have to pay bills like everyone else.

Build community, NOT a church. One of my favorite verses is Acts 2:42-47. It talks about those first believers coming together as a community. That is what church should be: about building community. Too often we were focused on building a church, a place where people come and get a little God once a week and move on. A community is a place where we learn to be followers of Christ, not just on Sunday, but everyday. We needed to be a people who prayed together, worship together, study the word together and just be together. I’m not talking about a cult, but about trying to be the body of Christ.

Another related thing was that we were trying to do certain things that would draw people. If we used a projector…if we move to this location…if we meet at this time…all of this turned church into a commodity. We should have focused more on being the church.

That’s all I have for now, but I’m sure there are others. Stay tuned…

Friday, October 26, 2012


Here's an interesting fact.  The Methodist Church is growing...in Cuba.  There are more members and more new churches.  This is what Cuban Bishop Ricardo Pereira said about what is going on the Carribean island:

“In the 1970s we tried every program that came along, but the church continued to grow older and decline. We had no other option but to pray and fast with all our power.”

Some of his statistics were staggering: There were 3,000 members in 1985, today there are more than 30,000. In 1999 there were 90 Methodist churches in Cuba; now there are 361. The church there has averaged 10 percent growth each year, but in the past quadrennium it has been more than 60 percent. When he was elected bishop there was a Methodist presence in less than half of the nation; now it’s up to 90 percent, “and I know we can finish the last ten percent before I end my episcopacy!” he said to much applause.
The downward slide of mainline churches is not inevitable.  Things can turn around, but it can only be through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus.  No program, not even this one, will save us.  Only God can be our hope to plant new faith communities.

May God do a work in us and through us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Planting Churches on a Shoestring

Mainline Protestant Churches have usually had one perferred way of planting churches: the parachute model.  What this entails is a pastor or pastors who come to an area to plant a church.  Sometimes people from nearby congregations give some of their members to become part of the new church.  The church meets in a temporary place for some time and sometimes acquires land to build a new church.  In most cases the church planter is given a full salary just like a pastor in an established congregation.

The costs of this kind of church plant is pretty expensive, with costs running up just south of $500,000. When mainline churches were full of people and full of cash, this model worked.  In our Region, we have used this kind of model over the years, most recently with Spirit of Joy Christian Church in Lakeville, MN and Open Source Christian Church in Rochester, MN.  These plants are showing progress, but we are not likely to see those kind of church plants in the very near future.

Why?  To put it bluntly, we are broke.

The Christian Church in the Upper Midwest does have money to help with planting churches, but we don't have the amounts of money that we used to.  As congregations dwindled, so did budgets and we can't fund churches in the manner we did five years ago, let alone 20 or 50 years ago.

But we as Christians and specifically as Disciples are called to preach the gospel and to plant new communities of faith regardless of what the financial spreadsheets say.  What this means is that we in the Upper Midwest Region are going to have to learn how to do church planting on a shoestring budget.

While such an idea might seem new to those of us in Mainline Protestant Churches, this is somewhat old hat in evangelical churches, which never really had the monetary resources we used to have. It might be hard for us to get used to this new paradigm, but it might just force us to be more creative in planting churches and rely more on God to the work of the gospel through us.

The Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical denomination, has to put together a slide show on how to plant churches on a shoestring.  Now, the slide is not balanced- in fact it is quite biased to this way of church planting.  But we need to listen to what they have to say, because it opens a new way of responding to an age old call to preach the gospel.

So, here's what they say about the "old" model:

As we look at the denominations and groups that are growing, and at the groups that are losing members, we see two contrasting types of models for their new works.
  1. In their new church development, those denominations that are losing members tend to focus on purchasing land for new building sites and on providing a building for new congregations.
  2. Groups declining in membership tend to insist on full salary and benefits provided for all workers.
  3. The focus is different.  Movements losing members tend to start new churches to serve “our people” who have moved there.
  4. No one at a district office, much less at a faraway denominational office, can possibly know a community and monitor the progress as well as those close at hand.
  5. Denominations losing members tend to begin a new congregation with a basic unit of the eventual building.  They want as a minimum some church school rooms and perhaps a fellowship hall which can be used at the outset for worship.
  6. The bottom line is cost.  If you lean heavily on the ingredients in the left hand column, you find it necessary to invest $500,000 to a 1 million mission dollars or more to get a new congregation off the ground.

Put aside the whole my-church-is-better-than-yours rhetoric for a moment and focus on two of the six points, number 2 which talks about full-time salaried staff and the final point which says the amount needed to fund a new church with this method is anywhere from $500K to 1 million.  Now, I'm all for making sure a staff is paid well for their work.  But as even established churches have trouble paying for a full-time pastor, we have to consider a time when church planters won't be getting a full salary.  What we will have to face is a future where a Region can only pay a portion of a salary and the church planter is going to have have to find other jobs to make the difference.  In short, I am saying pastors are going to have consider being tentmakers.

Back to the slideshow and what it says about the Shoestring Model:

In Contrast:
  1. The groups that are growing tend to focus instead on unreached people.  They see the need and attempt to find the least expensive way to reach them.
  2. Growing movements are more willing to use bi-vocational workers.  Oscar Romo of the Southern Baptists’ ministry to ethnics estimates that one-third of their pastoral leadership is bi-vocational.  In some cases the mate will support the pastor until there is sufficient support for a full salary.
  3. Lyle Schaller, expert church consultant, says that a reasonable goal is that “60 to 80 percent of the members of a typical new mission will be persons who, immediately before joining that mission, were not actively involved in the life of any worshipping congregation.”
  4. One denominational executive in this field said, “But how would we ever control it?”  The answer is, “You wouldn’t.”  The problem is similar to that face by the Jerusalem church when the rapid-fire church planting of the Apostle Paul was taking place.
  5. Growing groups often begin with a Bible study and fellowship group in a home.  They are more than willing to start with a community facility which can be rented or leased.
  6. If your focus is on the items like those in the right hand column, it is very possible to multiply many times over the possibilities for new starts because each is begun… on a shoestring!

 Now working on a shoestring doesn't mean that a church plant will be successful.  It might very just flop.  But it's not unusual that the church doesn't always have all the resources needed to do the job.  Sometimes we have to work with what we have and see how God moves.  If Jesus was able to feed thousands of people with just some fish and some bread, I imagine God can do a mighty work with the little we have as well.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Introducing the Northern Cass Project

A girl at the Big Event stares at the story of Zaccheus.

We are excited to see new churches sprout up.  One of those new communities is one that was originally called the Church @ Northern Cass (they working on a new name, stay tuned).  This is a joint Disciples/ United Methodist project headed up by Wade and Theta Miller in Northern Cass County, North Dakota (just north of Fargo, ND).  Wade is a Disciples pastor and Theta is an Elder in the United Methodist Church.  The Northern Cass Project is situated at Northern Cass School and near several new developments.  The plant meets on Wednesdays and is reaching those folks who for what ever reason can't make it to a Sunday morning service.  In their Case Statement, Wade and Theta describe the need for this new ministry: 

 As we live out our calling to be Disciples of Christ, we acknowledge that there is a growing number of families in the region that are “un-churched” or “de-churched”. Part of this trend is reflective of national declines in church attendance and membership, however there are also regional factors that have led to Fargo being named one of the 10 least religious cities in the U.S.# New church starts are the most effective way to bring in diverse new members to experience the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ.  By focusing a new church community on family-based ministry, we will be more likely to adapt to the changing culture while at the same time strengthening faith development and family life. This approach also allows for greater creativity by allowing this church to be “different” from the faith communities that many of these families grew up in or have an opinion of. Finally, by centering this ministry around the school, a relatively flat organization will efficiently use already strong connections to maximize the time and energy of very busy families. It is my hope and intention to pursue the idea of centering a new, mid-week worship community at the Northern Cass County consolidated K-12 school in order to reach a growing number of families in the district. As this family-focused ministry grows, community-based small groups and house worship meetings will begin to form and multiply as new families are involved in neighborhoods throughout the district.
Below is an account of one of their first events.

We had a wonderful and amazing First Big Event last Wednesday. Thank you so much to our volunteers who made it possible. Even through a technical issue or two, we had a great opening of learning in the Library before moving into our "Rotations" with the help of our Confirmation "Shepherds" (and yes, they did ask if they could carry shepherds crooks to keep the kids in line!...I told them "No";)  Our other rotation was Kickball and time on the playground. We had 25 kids join us for our first event!

wade and theta
Wade and Theta Miller
After a simple, but tasty!, supper with our families at 5:45, 54 joined together for our first worship service together at 6:30. The focus on the service was "Welcoming", teaching on the story of Zacchaeus and how "extravagant hospitality" was offered by Jesus to one who was labelled a Traitor and a Thief. We also watched a small clip of the movie October Sky. These two stories were reminders of how there are "Zacchaeii" in all our lives, people that are alone (for whatever reason!) and looking for something more. We have been given the gift of God's love through Jesus Christ, and it is meant for ALL God's children! Saints, Sinners, Christians, Seekers, Doubters, Popular, Geeks, Jocks, Loners, and Social Butterflies, just to name a few...ALL of us!

I hope that you will put our next event on your calendar for October 10 (10/10). We will use a clip from the movie, We Bought a Zoo, and our confirmation opening will be in full swing for our 6-8 graders. Again, we will begin the After-School ministry in the Library at 3:45, Family Supper at 5:45 in the Commons, and Worship at 6:30 in the Auditorium, wrapping up by 7:15 to get home and ready for a good night's sleep.

One thing we learned...some of our kids who wanted to stay had to get on the bus because they didn't have a note for their teachers. Don't forget to send a note, especially for our young ones. Also, Confirmation class is weekly at the Arthur UMC after school from 4-4:45 each Wednesday when we don't have an After-School Event. Ride the bus to the mall and walk on over to the church. Please contact Wade if you are going to be a new member for our Confirmation class...I need to make sure we have enough materials.

I look forward to sharing the love of Jesus Christ to more of our neighbors and friends and inviting them to join us on 10/10. I hope you can do the same...you never know which one of us is feeling "Alone" and needs that little word of hospitality and welcome.

Rooted in Christ's Love...
Growing in Faith...
Serving in Community,

Pastor Wade

The project is still in its early stages. Expect more stories to follow! If you want to know more about Northern Cass, you contact Wade at  wadewmiller@gmail.com or Theta at revtheta@gmail.com. May God be with Wade and Theta as they begin this exciting new ministry!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Thousand and One Ways: Kairos Church

Here's the second in a series of videos from 1001 Worshipping Communities, the new church initiative of the Presbyterian Church (USA) This video focuses on Kairos Church in Atlanta.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Thousand and One Ways: New Faith

There really is no one way to plant a church.  You can use the "traditional" method where a pastor comes into a community and starts from scratch, you could start a Sunday School in a neighborhood and grow something that way, or you could run a coffeehouse/church.

As Disciples, we believe in sharing the Good News of Christ with everyone in as many ways as we can.  So, how do we do that here in the Upper Midwest?

Like I said, there are many ways to plant a church and over the next few posts we are going to see about a thousand and one ways.  The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a new initiative called 1001 Worshipping Communities, which as the name suggests, aims to plant 1001 new faith communities over the next 10 years.

We are showing you this to help plant a seed and maybe to give some of you ideas on how to share Christ in the Upper Midwest.  Could we see a version of these unique churches sprout in Iowa City or Mankato or Grand Forks?

Here's the first video in the series on New Faith Church in South Carolina.