We thought…but found… (part 1)

I’m finally to some of the “meat” of what we’ve learned in trying to start a church as a network of missional communities in NW Indiana. I’ve written about our vision and the city we started in. I shared some of the ways we saw God work in and through our community. Now to figure out what we’ve learned from this season!

I’ve been reading a short free e-Book called Success through Failure. I’ve enjoyed it because it’s a short book of principles. (I suppose I’m not a total creative, story-loving, ‘good post-modern.’) Honestly, I need lots of reminders. It’s easy for me to lose focus and forget that “failure” is only real if we refuse to turn toward God, learn, and keep moving. All that we have experienced is an opportunity to be discipled by Jesus in the deep places of our hearts.

So here are my reflections on what we’ve learned. Hopefully it will be helpful for someone else too.

Reflections

First, we thought that because there were many younger people moving to our city, we would find people who connected with simple, missional church. But we found that the culture of our suburbs still connects more with larger, multi-siting church.

I remember listening to a 20-hour audio of a Wolfgang Simpson simple church training in Australia. He suggests that in post-Christendom culture, apostolic (innovative, missionary, starter types) and prophetic (insight giving, exhorting, visionary types) Christians are mostly on the fringe of the traditional church. And A’s and P’s are needed to start new works.

But we found that in NWI, most of the A’s and P’s are still really stoked about multi-siting megachurch. We just “got megachurch” about 10-15 years ago in NW Indiana. I’ve observed that many of the simple church /missional communities pastors are the children of megachurches who are in search of a form of church that connects with their generation.

But we don’t have many “children of mega”…yet.

We found that most people had a “mental short circuit” when we described what we were doing. A different expression/form of church was just too foreign to Christians and non-yet-Christians alike.

Second, we thought we could transition easily from developing “witnessing communities” on college campuses to starting “missional communities” in a suburb. But we found “real life” to be a lot more challenging and scattered than being on campus.

On campus, even on our commuter campuses, everyone had an immediate connect point – the campus. This is why campus ministry is so important and effective. But life post-college is so much more scattered. And we found it difficult to recreate the common connectors needed for a missional community from scratch.

I think the best route would be to form a first missional community around a neighborhood or network of people within an existing church.  Perhaps that community would eventually be sent out to multiply on its own. Or perhaps it would still be connected to the sending church. And similarly…..

Third, we thought that we could form a first missional community around a more general mission. We found that a broad mission like “our city” doesn’t capture the heart enough to motivate toward mission.

It was a real struggle to come up with a common mission. We did some good missional activities. We helped the homeless and served in a nursing home. We prayer-walked our neighborhood and downtown Crown Point. But it was hard to find a common mission for everyone – moms with small kids, shift working dads, young singles, and couples with no kids. We needed a smaller mission focus– like our neighborhood where we lived, or better, folks in their 20s and 30s with kids in our neighborhood. We needed something small enough to wrap our hearts around and clear enough for people to know if they were called to that common mission.

Those are some big picture reflections. Next time I’ll bring it in a little and share what we’ve learned about doing life together and “doing church” in a smaller, more relational way.

I’d be curious: in your part of the country or your city, do you find some of these same things as well? Or are there more “post-Christians” in your area who are more open to new “expressions” of church?