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 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 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 or Theta at 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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"We Are About Blessing People"

Last week, I went to the celebration of a new church in the Northern Twin Cities Suburbs.  Chain of Lakes Church is a new church development of the Presbyterian Church (USA) located in Blaine, MN.  The church has been meeting for a few years and earlier this summer, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (the local body of the PCUSA) purchased land for a future church building.  So, this wasn't a groundbreaking as much as a claiming of the ground as a place where God's healing will take place.

Paul Moore, the pastor of Chain of Lakes, took the opportunity in a sermon/speech to get folks to imagine what God could do with the people that make up Chain of Lakes.  I want to share a bit of his speech:

Just down the road from here is Lino Lakes Elementary STEM school. We’ve been serving that school for over a year. This past summer about ten of us from our new church took a morning to paint the inside of the school walls. The principal, Ron Burriss, had shared with me that he was going to do the painting this summer himself. It didn’t seem right that a principal of a school should have to paint alone. A group of us from Chain of Lakes New Church partnered with him to paint the inside of the school. We’ve also sent mentors into that school to build relationships with kids who need help; we’ve sponsored parenting seminars there. The backpacks that we’re collecting tonight will go to help children at Lino Lakes Elementary STEM who need them. One of the beauties of starting a new church is we have such an opportunity to see a big impact on families. Three fourths of our congregation were not connected to a faith community before they came to Chain of Lakes New Church. We’ve witnessed wonderful stories of blessing.In our short history we had a man give up alcohol. The people of our new faith community were a source of encouragement and support. We’ve witnessed a woman experience God in a dramatic way—she gets up before sunrise to read the Bible because God is propelling her to get out of bed.The first baptism in our new church was an adult baptism. A man who had not been involved in a church gave his life to Christ on our first Easter.

We’ve been blessed by our Presbytery; we are blessing a school and the people in our own new church have been blessed.

Now we look to bless the people of this neighborhood.

I know in these days when there isn't much money to go around, the desire to plant new churches seems like a waste of money that might better spent on the homeless or something.  But new churches provide an opportunity to provide hope and healing to people.  Chain of Lakes has blessed its community by helping a school and helping someone get off alcohol.  That may have not a happened had it not been there.

What I'd like to see in the Upper Midwest Region are sustainable communities that are making a difference in people's lives.  I have heard the stories from Stephen and Rebecca Haney about how they are reaching unchurched people in Rochester, MN.  I've sat down with a clergy couple in North Dakota who have plans to plant a new ministry just north of Fargo, that will touch families with the love of God.  I hear it in the words of a commissioned minister who chomping at the bit to plant a church in Woodbury, MN which will reach out to people in the Eastern Twin Cities and will also provide a place for people with addictions to make those first and ongoing steps of sobriety.

I believe the Spirit is moving accross this Region to raise up folks who are in the business of blessing people.  I'm excited to see where God will lead these church planters and what impact it will have on the whole Region.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

YOU Should Join the New Church Ministry Team

It's been a while since I posted.  It's been a busy summer on a lot of fronts.  The plans for church starts in the Eastern Twin Cities suburbs and just north of Fargo, ND are moving ahead and I hope to share more about these two projects in the coming month or so.

Church planting is incredibly fun, but it is something that can't be done alone.  Church planters need a caring community that they can turn to during the tough times (and church planters do go through tough times!).  They need fellow Christians to support them not only financially, but spiritually as well. 

The New Church Ministry Team of the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest is looking for folks who have a passion (or simply a curiosity) in starting new churches and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

So, what does it mean to be on the New Church Ministry Team?  Here are a few things we are looking for:

  • First is to seek out and develop relationships with potential church planters;
  • Second, to find partner congregations to support a new church financially (if possible) and spiritually
  • Third: to be in covenant with church planter and new ministries (includes, praying, visiting new church plants, etc.), assisting with the launch and working with the Operations Committee to secure funding and other means of support
  • Fourth: To share the news of church plants with the wider region
  • Finally(and this should be first): To cast a vision for new churches in the region, with attainable goals.

To be part of this team means being willing to meet with church planters and establish churches to get them passionate about starting new churches.  I think that's what it boils down to: passion and calling.  You have to passionate to be on this team.  This isn't a committee in the old sense where we get people to serve, this is a team of folks who feel called to New Church Ministry in various forms.

If you are interested in being a part of this team, then fill out the form located on this website or drop me a line at Look forward to meeting you!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Called, Gathered and Sent (Or, Why Mainline Protestants Suck at Church Planting)

I've been what could be considered a Mainline Protestant for 20 years.  In those 20 years, I've learned something about mainliners:

We really suck at planting churches.

Let me back up a moment. I started attending Calvary Baptist Church in located in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC in the fall of 1992.  It was and is an American Baptist congregation and like many mainline churches was active in the community.  Since I darkened the doors of Calvary, I've been part of Mainline Protestantism.  I moved to Minneapolis and joined a Disciples of Christ congregation which became my denominational home.  Today, I work full-time as a communications specialist for the local presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and part time as the Associate Pastor of a local Disciples of Christ congregation.  So, yeah, I'm a Mainline Protestant.

If there's a theme that has been running in the background all these years, it's the one about liberal Protestants being in decline.  All of the major Mainline Protestant denominations keep experiencing decline, with more and more churches closing and the surviving congregations growing grayer and grayer.
I've been around enough to see how we deal with this issue.  Sometimes we ignore it and talk about the potential problems with evangelicals, sometimes we talk about "transformation" and about changing the church (but never seem to make any real changes), and sometimes we seek to blame someone or something for the decline.

What we don't do, or don't do very well is planting new churches.  All of the mainline churches have some kind of new church planting movement to get local judicatories and congregations to get involved in new churches.  While I don't think they are absolute failures, they aren't always astounding successes.  New churches get planted, but not at the rate that we are closing churches.

There are good reasons to start churches, but for whatever reason, the general populace in mainline churches are not that excited. (I've shared my own experience with this.)The same goes for pastors.
Why is this the case?  Why do we suck at planting new communities of faith?
I think it comes down to one word: eccesiology, the understand of who and what is the church. Wikipedia describes ecclesiology as such:
In its theological sense, ecclesiology deals with the church's origin, its relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its discipline, its destiny, and its leadership.
The problem here is that we have lost the sense of what the church is and how it related to Jesus and to God.  If we don't know why we have churches, then why in God's name would we plant any?
What does it mean to be a church?  Why should people belong to a faith community?  How does that congregation relate to the community around it?
These are questions we need to be asking, but in many cases haven't.
Since we don't have a language to describe church, other things fill the void which frankly do a bad job.  In writing on the future of the Mainline Church, James Wellman notes that the emphasis on social justice might actually be harming mainline churches more than helping them:
The ‘former' Protestant mainline churches show no signs of stopping their decline. The emphasis on an educated clergy has created an elaborate system of bureaucracy that tends to repel entrepreneurial personalities and attract introspective intellectual types that are more comfortable in the classroom than in the pulpit. Moreover, the growing movement to ordain gay and lesbian men and women, while noble from a liberal and progressive perspective, tends to shift the focus of attention away from family ministries. Without an emphasis on families, churches tend to decline rapidly. Liberal Protestantism, statistically, does not keep their children and youth in their churches. The aging of these churches is also well known.
These churches focus most of their energies on ministries of social justice, particularly on meeting the needs of the homeless. This group tends to advocate inclusiveness and tolerance, making clear what they reject, but they are often unclear as to what they support religiously. As a small subculture, they will continue, but no longer, in any sense, as a mainline. Ironically enough, in some ways, their marginalization is a function of their success in ministries of justice. Most of their causes are already a part of the American mainstream, for example: women's rights, abortion rights, and even, to some extent, gay rights. Many Americans ask, then, why even go to these churches? (emphasis mine)
Contrast this with how Evangelicals see the church:
The future for Evangelicals appears to be more open and perhaps expansive. Evangelicals, again broadly speaking, tend to see the Bible as inerrant; they counsel conversion and look to Jesus' blood atonement as the requirement for salvation. They also tend, stylistically, to be much more deliberate in using modern and contemporary methods of music, worship, and, more broadly, communication. Some have argued that they are accommodated to the culture, but when interviewed, Evangelicals argue, "No, we use modern methods to reach out to those who are lost in order to share the love and salvation of Jesus Christ." That is, Evangelicals argue that they are "less" accommodated then what they call "liberal or progressive Christians."
In general, however, Evangelicals rarely talk about the ‘former' mainline; they talk much more about how to reach those who are unchurched and who have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. In large part, because they are so structurally decentralized, they have become fragmented and entrepreneurial. Because of this ethic and ethos, young leaders with entrepreneurial personalities are drawn to this kind of Christianity, which ensures, in part, that their dynamism will continue. As to whether Evangelicals are now the mainline is simply a question they don't ask. They are far less interested in dominating economic or political institutions then in evangelizing young people. Indeed, Evangelical youth are much more likely to stay in the church than those in the liberal or ‘former' mainline churches. The growth of Evangelical churches, at least from their present state, seems to be assured.
The Lutherans have this phrase that sums up what it means to be a Christian and what the church is for: called, gathered and sent.  Evangelicals know they are called by God to spread the gospel.  They get it.  We don't really know if we are called, don't know why we gather or why we are sent.  We've lost that language and replaced it with talk of justice.  I'm not saying that we should all become conservative churches and drop issues like gay rights or poverty.  But those aren't the reasons we are church.  As Wellman notes, as society becomes more accepting of gays, why go to church.  If I can get all that I want from a Democratic caucus meeting on poverty or the environment, why the hell plant a church?
If Mainliners want to grow again, then we need to go back to basics: we need to know why we are church.  We need to be develop again the sense of being called by God, gathering together for common fellowship and prayer and being sent to preach the good news of Jesus. When we can actually name why we want to plant churches, hell why we are church, then maybe we will stop our decline into irrelevance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just Wondering...

The following was written by Pastor Jerry Crenshaw as new way to plant churches.  What do you think?  Do we have room for what Jerry is talking about?  Do you feel called to plant a "house church" ? How can the Region (meaning all of us, not the Regional staff or just pastors) help this become a reality?

Dennis, I love these posts and the questions and searching hearts that are reflected. But I wonder. We seem to think of church planting as something only seminary trained, professionals can do. Call out the experts. It seems to me that a lot of churches have been planed by amateurs.. or by lay people. Acts seems to have some good examples of that. It also seems that we have a institutional model in our minds. Like the only good new church ministry is to establish a lasting institution, building campus and all. I wonder if we can find ways to challenge laity to gather their friends around a need in their community. I wonder if there are not those who would love to do “missional type work in meeting a felt need. Could we then encourage them and walk with them helping them to reflect upon their work through their faith perspective. What are their cherished values? Why do they “want to give back” to the community? How does their working together reflect up their love for their “neighbor”/ What does it say about their love for the divine presence _ for God? Help them to reflect and grow from where they are, not from where we think they should be.

If we could then help them discern their needs. For instance when they felt a need to worship together as a community could we trust them and help them to find what meets their need? Could we offer resources and encouragement? Could we be aware enough to bring like minded groups together? This is not offered as any answer, not as the only solution to a rather complex challenge. But I hope we are aware there are those out there that are being disturbed and are beginning to wonder about a new faith experience that just might lead to church happening.

I have worshiped with at least one group that has gathered and are growing a church with out ordained ministers. Their excitement and sense of joy at owning that experience is exciting. On my first visit they were excited to tell me, a stranger who just walked in off the street, that they were all responsible for preparing for their worship experiences and leading in them. They bless the loaf and the cup together, with visitors, and serve each other. They decide together how to reach out and minister to the needs around them. They gather around their sick. They help those who have become jobless.

I keep hearing of others who are wanting to do something in calling a new faith group together. I am encouraged by these and wonder if we do not demand to much or that we expect them to meet our standard of church. I think we, as a region and as individual congregations, have so much to offer such groups. And I wonder if what is holding me back is a set of blinders that I have some how assumed was church. As I said, “I wonder...”

Keep up the excellent and stimulating blog and facebook page. I join with you in inviting others to share their dreams and wonderings... and longings... and prayers. Thanks again.

If you or a group of people are interested in planting a faith community, please let me know.  Email me at 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Happy Birthday! Give to the Pentecost Offering!

Happy Birthday!

That’s basically what we are going to celebrate this Sunday, Pentecost Sunday.  It was on that day, long ago when the disciples of Jesus were gathered in a room and received the Holy Spirit.  It was on this day, that the followers of Christ ignited a worldwide movement that continues to this very day. 

We learn about what it means to be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus through the gathering of believers called the church.  From Sunday School classes to weekly worship and communion, it is at churches in urban areas and in the country that we are formed into Christ followers.

This Sunday, churches accross the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will be collecting the Pentecost Offering which goes towards supporting new churches, new places where people old and young will be introduced to Jesus through the lives of Christians who have heard the call to plant new communities of faith. 

This offering makes a difference in the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest as we work to foster new communities of faith in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.  Communities like Open Source Christian Christ and Iglesia Neuva Jerusalem in Rochester, MN or Korean Dordom Christian Church in St. Louis Park, MN.  There are also planned church starts in the incubation stage in Woodbury, MN and Northern Cass County, North Dakota (just north of Fargo).  We are working to spread the good news of Jesus to all people...sharing the news in Korean, English and Spanish, which is kind of like the first Pentecost- telling the story of Jesus in different tounges.

Please consider giving to the Pentecost offering.  You can give in your churches this Sunday or consider giving online.

I’m also urging folk to visit our new church ministry blog called the Pentecost Project.  You will read stories of how these new communities are reaching out to share the gospel and find ways to support them.  I also ask that if you have a passion for new church, please consider joining the New Church Ministry Team.  If you’re interested, you can either fill out the form at the Pentecost Project, or drop me an email at

May God bless you this Pentecost and may God’s church continue to grow!

Dennis Sanders
Team Leader, New Church Ministry Team, Christian Church in the Upper Midwest
Associate Pastor, First Christian Church-Minneapolis

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Setting the Table in Rochester

The Pentecost Offering is one of the "big four" major offerings done by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The Pentecost offering is taken up in congregations on Pentecost (May 27) and goes to help in the efforts of planting new churches.  The good folks at Open Source Christian Church in Rochester, MN did a special video for the offering, showing the work that has been done in Rochester and asking folks to give to the offering.  Watch the video below and consider contributing in your congregation next Sunday or you can donate online.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Church Spotight: Open Source Christian Church

Here is the second in our series of new churches in the Region: Open Source Christian Church in Rochester, MN.  Church planter Rebecca Haney shares what she and her husband Stephen are doing in their growing community.


Open Source (Disciples of Christ) , a newer Jesus centered spiritual community in Rochester, Minnesota has been doing all it can to build relationships and make a difference. Not only do we build relationships with God and others, but we are working to make love real in the Rochester community and beyond.

As a community, we engage both art and intellect to begin to know Jesus and the Gospel. Open Source just recently held its first Wine 2 Water event, raising funds ($700!!) for clean water sustainability in Nicaragua. Additionally, our Open Source Artist Network is selling art and sharing the Open Source story at a local Art on the Ave event next Saturday. On the very same day, we will be partnering with Christ United Methodist Church to feed hungry people lunch. This meal may be the best meal those present may receive all day.

 On Sunday, we will have a picnic, where we intend to play, laugh, tell jokes, share a meal, and then have communion. Even though the picnic is not one of our worship experiences, we acknowledge that God is still present, and the Lord’s Table is definitely a distinctive part of our community life. Even in our play we embrace the idea that “we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” We do welcome all to the Lord’s Table, even as God has welcomed us, and In this, we rejoice!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Church Spotlight: Minnesota Korean Dordom Christian Church

Here's the first of what I hope will be many New Church Spotlights.  Our first one focuses on Minnesota Korean Dordom Christian Church in St. Louis Park, MN just outside of Minneapolis.  Church planter Heongook Choi shares a little about what Korean Dordom is all about. Thanks to Pastor Choi and is his son Jonathan for writing this paragraph and please keep Korean Dordom and the Chois in your prayers.

Have you ever known what a Korean Church would be like? Well, come and see what my church is like for you.

The church name is "The DorDom". The meaning of "Dor" is stone, and "Dom" is fence. This is explained in John 10:7. The mission for our church is to gather believers in the fence. We have an opening prayer, praise and worship, study time, and we end with a closing prayer.

개역개정 (요 10:7)
그러므로 예수께서 다시 이르시되 내가 진실로 진실로 너희에게 말하노니 나는 양의 문이라

NIV (John 10:7)
7. Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.

A strong body makes a strong mind.
A strong mind creates a strong family.
And a strong family makes a strong and healthy church.

Pastor Choi.
MN Korean DorDom Church.
1615 Texas Ave S
St, Louis Park, MN 55426
e-mail :

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How I Totally Failed in Planting a New Church (And Why I'd Do It Again)

Presbyterian pastor and blogger Landon Whitsitt shares two ways that a church plant can fail. The second one is trying to do it like you would staring a business. The first one kind of takes a motto from a certain athletic company as gospel:

For folks in the circles I typically run in (read: postmodern young adults) anything that seems like it comes from the immediate past era of church work is anathema. This especially includes strategic plans, goals, and objectives. We don’t like quotas. We don’t like benchmarks. We don’t like deadlines. And, because most of us want to do something fun and creative, we incensed at the idea that our funding will get shut off after 3-5 years. “They can’t expect us to be ‘self-sufficient’ in 3-5 years! This new kind of church doesn’t work that way!” The way churches begun by this kind of person usually gets started is the “Nike Method:” just do it. When we begin churches of this kind, we just jump in. We don’t think. We don’t plan. We just do. We live in the moment. We have fun. We talk about communities growing organically, and of trying to not stifle the Spirit. This means we don’t press too hard on one another. We don’t hold one another accountable for anything, because, usually, there’s nothing to hold each other accountable for. Why? Because we’re trying to find that one thing we can all agree on, and there’s always someone who “doesn’t feel called to that.” Believe me, I’ve sat through these marathon meetings. They suck. Hard.
As many of you know, I planted a church once. It worked for three years. And it failed. Spectacularly. I tried planting a church on the "just do it" model. I just asked some people to come together and they did. And we met together for worship for quite some time. But for a lot of reasons, this community could not sustain itself. Maybe it was too organic, but it did fail and for quite some time I felt that I had failed. I know there are those around me who tend to believe Community of Grace wasn't a failure and I get where they are coming from. But it was a failure in the sense it died shortly after its birth. I'm willing to own up to the fact that there were a lot of things I did wrong and a lot of thing I needed to learn from that experience. But even though it failed, I would do Community of Grace all over again, though I would hopefully be smarter about it. I would do it again, because I heard the call from God to start something. I would do it again because it made a difference in people's lives. I would do it again because it help me become the pastor that I am now. I would do it again because it provided insight to an existing congregation when I became their Associate Pastor. There has been a lot of talk about new churches from various leaders (here and here for example) and how they can be church. I've seen new plants that were carefully planned and fail and those that had no thought and also failed. I've seen also seen new churches thrive and grow. I think at times that what matters is not so much that a new church be successful but that we are faithful to the call. That doesn't mean that we do crappy jobs, but it does mean that sometimes we will fail in sharing the good news. A lot of new churches die within a few years, but as the Apostle Paul has said, Christ was still preached. So, yeah, following the "just do it" model is probably not the way to go in church planting; but if I had to do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Obligatory First Post

Hello, my name is Dennis Sanders and I'm the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.  I'm also the Convener of the New Church Ministry Team for the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest.  Our team is looking at ways we can plant new faith communities in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.

I'm on this team because I have a passion for new churches and for spreading the Good News of God in different ways.  The Upper Midwest Region is ripe for new churches.  From the Twin Cities to Des Moines to Fargo-Moorhead, there are tons of opportunities for starting new places of worship.  But the Region is also ready simply because there are so many people who have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in word and deed.  We need to be where the Spirit of God is, among the disaffected suburban youth, to the inner city where poverty and crime sap the spirit of the people, among immigrant communities where our newest citizens are trying to make a new life in a foreign land, to college towns where young adults are trying make the faith they grew up with their own, to...well I think you get the idea.

I hope you will follow along and find ways to join the new church planting movement here in the Upper Midwest.  Stay tuned to see where the Spirit leads!