Last week I wrote a bit about our desire to start a church in Dublin that is "Reproducible & Sustainable." The comments that came helped me realize how difficult something like this is to clarify in a few blog posts.
I believe one difficulty is the perceptions many of us carry when someone says "plant a church." We immediately start thinking about the building where this church will meet and how the Sunday services will be structured. I know that's how it worked for me most of my life.
But as we've thought about church planting in Dublin, we've had something very different in mind…I wouldn't say original…but maybe a bit of a hybrid. When we went over there last summer, the phrase that we used to convey what we were thinking was "parish model."
It actually came out of something that I'd been thinking about our church here in Ithaca. Let me explain...We have been, like a lot of contemporary evangelical churches, a "regional" church. While we have had people at times drive from Bath, or Auburn, both over 50 minutes away, that has not been the norm. However, we regularly (& currently) have people come from Trumansburg (15 miles from the church's facility), Aurora (25), Cortland (20) & Sayre, PA (41).
[While I spent the first 11 years of our church's history in Ithaca, I have lived in Trumansburg for the past two (long story.)]
While I'm glad people have decided to travel to be part of what we are doing in Ithaca, (many of the people who've live in these outer areas have been leaders at our church,) I've wondered more and more lately about the impact of that.
While I do think there are a great deal of positives to having people come in from all over, in the 13 years that I was lead pastor at the Ithaca Vineyard, the number of outreach/service events that I've planned/organized for Cortland, Tburg, Sayre, or Aurora would be a grand total of 0. Why? Because I believe God called our church to serve/lover/reach out to Ithaca. And that's where I've focused…that's where our church has focused. At the same time, it has meant that many those who are driving into Ithaca have not been able to be as involved as they would be if their church was right where they lived.
So here's what I've been thinking as far a Dublin. Rather than building something and expecting them to come, our family is going to focus on serving, relating to & loving people in Clontarf. As we start to see people come from other areas, we'll invite them to join us, have them learn along side of us what we are doing there, and then send them out to into their neighborhood and communities to begin doing the same thing.
(If you're familiar with Alan Hirsch, this is pretty similar to the hub/network model he writes about.)
Now, this probably means smaller groups of people meeting in any one place, but the potential for many more of these small groups spread out through out the city & beyond.
So with that said, what would be the first question that would pop into your head? What concerns? Or what opportunities. Love to continue the discussion.
When I posted yesterday, I said I wanted to share about why, at least in my thinking, being truly reproducible has been a bit of a challenge.
And I'm really wrestling with getting this into words. And while I'm wrestling with getting this into words, my wife is working like crazy packing up our house...(I'm trying not to feel too guilty, but it isn't working well).
So I want to throw out one idea and I'd love to hear from you as to why you think it is difficult for churches to reproduce what they are doing on a regular basis. (or if you totally disagree with my premise, let me know that.)
Again, using the church I started as an example...with this plant in Dublin upcoming, we will have planted 2 churches in 13 years. Now, I used the words "regular basis" because they are intentionally vague...however, I'm pretty sure that 1 every 6.5 years does not qualify as regular.
For me, the biggest hinderance to being reproducible was finding people who could do all of the stuff a church planter was supposed to do. They often need to be a bit super human... They need to be able to cast vision, evangelize, recruit, train new people, teach, administrate, market, lead small groups, set up systems, oversee finances... and the list actually goes on a bit longer, but you get the idea. And for the first few years, they usually need to be bi-vocational as well. (Not only is that a challenge to being reproducible, not the most sustainable process either.)
The guy who planted out of our church in Wellsboro PA, was a retired CEO with an MBA from Cornell before church planting.
My thought is, what if the bar was lowered? Now, not in character or godliness, spiritual formation...I'd actually like to see that bar raised a bit. But lowered in the job description? What if what was expected of the planter was much less than it is now? What if what was expected form a lead pastor was much less? WWhat if rather than going out on their own, they were more part of a network of related churches? What if you had a model where someone could be bi-vocational for years, while pastoring/leading a church and feel energized rather than burnt-out?
I'm still working this out...it's more of a conversation I'm having with friends over a meal rather than a well written concept at this point.
I'd love to hear any thoughts you had on why reproducing can be a challenge...or if any of my random questions struck a chord with you.
One of the things we have sensed since we first got the idea of moving to Dublin to plant a church was that we needed to spend sometime getting to know and simply listening to people there. What helps people in Ithaca connect with Jesus may not have any impact in Dublin….or it might. But we are going there as students...to listen and learn.
At the same time, there are a couple things about what we are hoping to do there that are becoming more and more clear as we move forward. For example there are two words that we have strongly believed need to describe what we build in Dublin...Sustainable & Reproducible.
Over the next few days I wanted to look at what those two words mean to us. Let me start by talking about what I mean by reproducible. (as an aside, I have learned that if you and your spouse reproduce after a certain age, people feel they have a right to ask you very personal questions...this also seems to be true for people who have 4 or more kids. When we had our first 3 kids, no one asked us if we were trying to have kids...but when Liz was pregnant with Méabh, countless people asked us if we were surprised...we simply assured them that we understand how the process works.)
At least with humans...
But say you have a church of 1000 people. Over the course of 15 years, they plant 10 new churches. And say one of those churches grows to 200. Two more make it to 100, and the rest struggle to make it year to year, and never really become established.
I’m 6 feet (72 inches) tall. My wife is 5’6”. We have 4 kids. Say one of them grew to 36 inches tall. Another to 28 inches, and the other two were still struggling to get past 20 inches. On the one hand, sure, we’ve reproduced, but no one would look at that and see our family as healthy. In fact, everyone would recognize something somewhere had gone wrong.
And obviously, they would still be human...they would still matter...we would still love them...they would have value...but we would all want so much more for them.
Or even take our church in Ithaca. I’ve wanted to plant churches. I’ve prayed about it. Talked to people with potential, and encouraged them to plant...and in 13 years, we’ve planted 1 church (and that involved someone who came to our church wanting to plant.) Now that church (in Wellsboro PA) is about the same size as our church in Ithaca. So on the one hand we’ve reproduced...what we reproduced has grown to look like us...but after 13 years of trying, we reproduced once.
Again, if Liz and I had been trying to have kids for 13 years & had one, most everyone would recognize that there is something not working as it is supposed to.
I have some thoughts as to why it has worked this way...tomorrow I’ll share a couple of thoughts on that.