Got this email from someone who read one of my articles:
Hi, my name is Lee anne and just wanted to tell you I loved your transparency and simplicity in your article. My husband and I would like to do something similar but are needing that extra push. Could you give a few more details of your experience of starting? Did you have a building or did you meet in your home? Did you invite new people you met or did you already have some core people? What was the meeting like? What did you do w/ children? Thanks so much and bless you, Lee anne
You know, one of the things that helps me sleep at night is knowing that God has let me have a very, very, very small part in starting a large number of churches around the world- not throgh big efforts or funding, but just through writing and sharing ideas and hopes for what church could be...
So thanks for the encouragement, Lee Anne and others.
Here's how it all went down...
My wife and I were working at Ye Ol' Mega Church here in town (I was doing media), and generally enjoying it- it had its challenges but it was a good, fairly healthy example of that model of doing ministry. The problem for me was simply that as time went on, I "bought" less and less of the model and its underlying presuppositions. That made things tough in many ways...
I began sending out resumes for pastoral positions like crazy- and the weird thing was, though I had never had a problem finding and getting a job before, this time- it just wasn't happening. I was often number two or number three, but never offered the position (I was number 2 for a senior pastor position in Paris, France... that freaked out my wife, but man, I would have loved it).
At any rate, through all that, I began to do some writing. I wrote an article entitled "Profoundly Disturbed on the Fourth of July" and another called "I Can't Pray for You" and though there were some personnel shake-ups happening and some political things going on, the long and the short of it was when they became aware of my writing, they let me know my job there was going to end. They gave me three months to figure things out (which I appreciate greatly, especially since my wife, who also on staff there was about 5 or 6 months pregnant), but...
What God seemed to be saying to me was "I want you in pastoral ministry, but not in any of those places... Time to start something new "
And so we did.
A couple saving graces for us, and if one can plant with some of these ingredients, I highly recommend it- I had "swam" in many pools here in Portland. I knew people from my Seminary years, from the big church we worked at, from another place where we had done some young adult ministry. We had a broad base of people relationships and contacts. I really think that is a key factor in successful planting in the organic model. Unless you are going to do the "big" start up with lots of money for advertising and infrastructure (something I recommend against, but that's for another time), you just need to know a good number of people from a good number of places.
Why? Because they know other people. Who know other people, and so on.
Draw people from your core group who are from as many different places as you can.
We prayed for (and God have us) people in transition. The last thing we wanted to do was just pull people from other churches. So, our core group was made up mostly of people who were ready to move, ready to do something new. I had to twist one or two arms, but not many.
We met in our house for three months from January to March, going over core values and spending some time talking and praying through what if's... what if church was like this... we dreamed. And then we just did it.
In April of '04 we started on Sunday mornings at the Lucky Lab in Multnomah Village. We rented the room initially for $50, but added another $25 to get someone there a little earlier so we could have a bit more time to get things arranged. We had a "core group" of maybe 12 people and had 31 at our first gathering. And it's just grown steadily ever since.
We started simply and (by and large) have stayed simple. A $600 sound system that served us through our first two years and was replaced with a donated sytem only slightly larger. Watching the kids has been the work of the community, though as the number grew we moved that into a separate room (many still stay with us through the gathering... You can read about kids stuff at evergreen here and here.
A theme I go back to a lot is this- I think we make this harder than it needs to be. What we need to do church, two years on, still fits in the back of my small-sized SUV (though in the past couple of months we've been supplementing with Rich's hatchback Hyundai). That doesn't mean we're better than churches with big trailers and light scaffolding and set-ups that start at 4am... but it does mean you don't need all that.
People are drawn to community. Build that, a community centered around the person of Jesus. The program stuff can come later, if at all...
Start simple. And if the people want more, let 'em have at it :)