When we started Evergreen, there were the inevitable questions of "Why start another church?"
And while there was a certain amount of reaction to our past churches and communities, the overriding desire we had was to begin a community that would reach people we saw as being unreached by existing communities. We knew that those communities were doing a great job of reaching and serving the people they were reaching and serving (obviously). But we also saw some pretty big gaps- some people that just weren't showing up.
Further, we had the intuition that the kind of community needed by the people we were thinking of was by definition smaller and more intimate, so it wasn't enough just to have one or two churches in our area that were connecting with these 20's and 30's, mostly unchurched or formerly churched folks. There needed to be many.
So for us, it wasn't and couldn't be about just starting one church that got bigger and bigger- it had to be a church that would plant churches (which would continue to plant churches). Multiplying communities that were doing their best to relationally connect to more and more people and connect those people to Jesus by living out, demonstrating and declaring the Good News.
We wanted things to be organic- that is, a more open source community whose ministries and activities would revolve around not what a group in leadership wanted but what the whole community desired and dreamed together of doing. We knew that leadership is important, but we wanted that leadership to be as flat and as transparent as possible, and to leave as much to the people of the community as was good and healthy. In other words, to find the balance between serving the community and acting to meet their needs, and yet not doing for the people the ministry they should and could be doing for themselves in meeting the needs of others.
We wanted a community that would encourage people in every way towards relationship with Jesus, that would show radical hospitality, that would be committed to the poor and the hurting and that would live out community in ways we had only dreamed about up to that point.
That's why we started Evergreen.
In many ways we have succeeded and in many ways we are still very much in process and struggling towards those ideals.
But six years in, I can honestly say: Our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. We are not a personality-driven community. Evergreen doesn't rise or fall on the gifts of one or two people. The work of the community is very much up to the people of the community. Whether we will live out our ideals of hospitality, commitment to the poor, introducing more and more people to Jesus doesn't rest on the shoulders of the elders or pastors. The responsibility to be/become that community rests on the shoulders of everyone who calls themselves a part of our community.
Frankly, that's a risk. I get (more and more, in fact), the desire to program ministry, to advertise and "vision-cast", to push and pull and guilt and cajole a community towards being what I or others in leadership would like it to be. In some ways, that would be the easier route.
Instead, Evergreen continues to take a different route. We preach the Gospel. We see lives changed slowly but surely. We encourage people to listen to God and respond appropriately, to follow their passions as God leads them out into a hurting and broken world and to pull others of us along with them. We pray for people to use their gifts both inside and outside of our community and live lives that are truly "on mission."
I have seen the Gospel at work in our community- I can't tell you how many times over the last few weeks I have seen the light-bulb come on and heard people say "I think I'm beginning to get what it means to say that Jesus is my Savior and nothing else." But I also see people hurting and in pain, I see newer folks struggling to connect, I see us often struggle to BE the kind of church community we all know we are meant to be.
But even in that struggle I see the grace of God and the Gospel at work. I'm so glad it's not easy for us- I'm so glad we're never tempted to think that something as vitally important to the world as living out the Good News that God Himself has come to rescue and renew all of creation through the work of Jesus on our behalf is easily within our power. I'm so glad that even in our efforts to be the Church, we are drawn to realize by how this hard is just how much we need Jesus.
So Evergreen, keep pressing on towards being the church you need, the church the world needs and the church Jesus is making of us. And when you feel frustration or an area of lack or pain in our community, thank God. That's Him showing you where He wants to work, and most likely, where He wants to use you.