So your church, New Denver, is obviously in Denver, CO. Tell us a little bit about where you guys are planting in the city.
Well Denver has 2.5 million people, but it still has the feel of a small city. It’s pretty young, very transient. People don’t come here to commit, they come here to play. It’s like an adult playground. The people are highly-relational, distrusting of institutions and highly secular.
Our church is located in a semi-urban place, about 3 miles outside the urban core. We’re in the first ring of suburbs that were built when the city first expanded. It’s actually kind of funny, the place where my family live is about 2 miles away from the city and originally it was where people in the city would build country homes to escape the city…2 miles away!
Anyways, we are located where people are fairly wealthy, want the amenities of the urban setting without the messiness, grunge or “riff-raff” of the city.
People tend to be fickle, have a hard time committing and are always looking for something better to do at the last minute. They really like to keep their options open.
Tell us about the process you used for planting your church. What did that time look like? What did you do?
Well my family came with 2 other families, we were all on staff at a church in Atlanta. The 3 of us are co-pastoring the church together (which we know is a little unique. I like to say, “Co-pastoring isn’t the way to do it, it’s just that it’s the way for us.” For whatever reason, it works really well for us). Before we moved here we probably visited the city once a month for about 6 months. During that time we just worked at building relationships. Psychographics. Figuring out where we wanted to live and plant.
I was actually the last of the families to get there; we arrived 6 months after the other two families. When I got there we already had a core of about 20-25 people and we started small groups.
How did you build that core team? I’m always interested how people gather core teams when they are “parachuting” into another city they haven’t lived in for very long.
I’d say about 25% simply came from networking. We were constantly meeting with people and “pressing the flesh.” Another 50% came because they were familiar with North Point or were transplants from Atlanta and had attended North Point in the past. And the other 25% came from Facebook microtargeting. We’ve actually had a lot of success with that.
But getting back to the question about how we started…we took this core group of people and developed weekly small groups, and in March of 2009, we started bringing these small groups together once a month for some very light worship and then on October 4 of 2009 we began our semi-weekly worship service.
Obviously the focus of this blog is more towards the missional church and looking at different church structures. What is the structure of your church? What would the average month look like?
Honestly, it’s very much like your average evangelical church. This Fall we will have 4 weekly Sunday gatherings and have a few small groups distributed around the city and we’re looking at starting a Huddle and seeing how that goes. Maybe start a Missional Community? I guess we’ll see. We also have informal gatherings. I’ve tried to really tap those who are strong people-gatherers and have asked them to be proactive in getting people together to do fun things. Just trying to make it organic.
So as you think about the last 12 months of planting, what do you think worked really well?
That’s actually kind of a hard question to answer. I still feel like we’re caught in between our megachurch roots and the more missional, organic style.
We have certainly dug into our toolkit and can “put on” a good worship service. What we’re doing is pretty stripped down, though, but we feel good about it. One of our core group recently commented that she feels like she “can bring all of me” to our gatherings. And that was a big compliment. She meant that her doubts, questions, and earnest pursuit of God – whatever that looks like – was welcome. Again, that was very encouraging to hear.
But the best things have probably been the organic, relational connections. I think there’s been a lot of life in that. It really seems to tap into the reality that people in Denver are often anti-church, yet hyper-relational. So the relational connections tap into the vibe that you find around here.
In the last 12 months, what hasn’t worked?
You know, I think we were pretty idealistic at the beginning. I guess that’s normal for church planters, right?
Before we were here we had people tell us to expect 80% of the Core Team to vanish within a year or two. And of course we thought, “No, that won’t happen to us.” Yeah, it definitely did.
We also tried something for 6 months where we didn’t have a worship service once a month and encouraged everyone to get involved with a mission project we were all doing together. It seemed good on paper, but never quite got off the ground. We might have had 20% of the people come out on those Sundays. I’m glad we tried it and I know there’s actually another church in Denver that has had unbelievable success with that; it just didn’t work great for us.
What is one failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
Some people might guess it’s been in the leadership aspect with three of us co-pastoring together, but that’s actually been great.
I think finding the right teaching rhythm has been hard with three of us. We tried to team teach the same message on one Sunday, that didn’t work. We alternated weeks, I taught for a week, then Stephen taught the next week, then Norton preached. Yeah, that didn’t work either.
Now we’re teaching for blocks of time, so I’m teaching for something like 4-5 weeks straight on one series. That seems to be working much better.
Ok. Let’s imagine it’s 365 days from now. What needs to be different in your community?
The key for me would be discipleship. We’ve got to disciple people. I just don’t know of many people who are doing this well. We’re looking to explore Huddles and that could really help, excited about that prospect.
We also really need to be sustainable. We’re top down right now and need to employ people who are evangelists and multiplying influence so we aren’t the only people carrying the banner. People are following right now and we need people who will lead with us.
What is the biggest thing God has been teaching you in the past year?
I think it would be easy for me to get caught up in creating a spiritual place for others. I think God is constantly reminding me that it starts with me. It’s the only way I can replicate anything, it has to start with me. One of the axioms we had in our last church that really stuck with us and gets to the heart of this: “Is what is happening here on staff worth exporting?”
So let’s think 5 years into the future. What does New Denver look like? What’s happened?
Man, 5 months from now would be awesome!
Well there are 3 of us on staff right now. I would think in 5 years we could have at least three networked churches, but maybe 6 or 8 that have spread and multiplied out of this (we can already see some of that starting to happen). Even now on a map of the city, it’s so interesting: There are three clusters of people with each cluster around where each one of us lives. And it’s not like we planned it like that, it’s just happened.
These interviews were originally published on Doug Paul’s blog:http://3dchurchplanter.wordpress.com/