So your church, the Renew Community, is in Lansdale, PA. Tell us a little bit about where you guys are planting in the city.
Well Lansdale isn’t in the city and it isn’t rural, but I’d also be hesitant to call it suburban, because it really isn’t. It’s about 30 miles away from the steps in the Rocky movie outside Philadelphia and is considered one of 10 towns or boroughs that are considered a part of Philly, which is the 4th largest city in the United States. Because it’s so wide and stretches so far it’s a bit like a megacity when you look at the metropolis in scope and size. But Lansdale itself only has about 16,000 people.
For the most part it’s blue collar, working class kind of people. The downtown needs to be revitalized and they’ve talked about it since the mid 1980′s, but a shopping mall about 12 minutes away saw a movement of many businesses in that direction.
Lansdale has a train station, which is actually an important feature because it allows many people to walk to the station and take the train into the city to work. Other people choose to commute into city by driving in.
Tell us about the process you used for planting your church. What did that time look like? What did you do?
Well we were coming out of a pretty painful time in leaving our last church, which is probably 20-25 minutes from where we are now. My wife and I just wish it could have ended a bit better. So even the very beginning was particularly hard.
In the early summer of 2008 we started having Vision Meetings and invited anyone and everyone who wanted to come to be a part of it. We ended up having three meetings because we had so many come to the first two and had more than 110 people come to the meetings. Pretty amazing.
When they got there, everyone was given Renew’s core values and vision and a Community Covenant everyone in the Core Team would have to sign and commit to. I was explicit that I didn’t want anyone signing it that night, I wanted people to take time to read over it and really process it. Then, I’d meet with each person or couple for coffee or meal sometime over the course of the summer. I wanted to take time to make sure they were coming for the right reasons. Lots of people go to a new church plant because they are leaving their old one. I wanted people on our Core Team who were coming to Renew, not leaving somewhere else. I wanted them to feel called to this community. For me, a lot of it had to do with motivations.
So yeah, it was kind of like an audition. Some people we said yes to, some people we said no to. In the end, we had about 40 adults on the Core Team and 18 kids. And even now, as I think about it, we probably should have said no to a few more people.
So once you got the Core Team locked down, what did you do to get ready for launching your church?
Our Core Team started getting together every week at the Boys and Girls Club in a back room. We’d sit in these squishy and somewhat terrible chairs. I think the big thing for that time wasn’t about learning something; it was about unlearning a lot of things.
Each week someone would share their story for about 15 minutes. We’d open up the scriptures. We’d discuss a lot of things.
We didn’t really have a plan and a timeline. I basically said, “Look, we’re not going to launch a Sunday gathering until we see some fruit from this group.” I really needed them to understand that the life we were looking for was in Monday through Saturday, not only on Sunday. So we waited it out. Some people really missed the candy of the Sunday morning service and they decided to leave.
Eventually we started meeting in house churches that met every week. We did this for a couple of months. And after we felt like those were established, we had a more public worship space that happened once a month on Easter of 2009.
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?
We talk a lot about the dual expression of the church, how scissors have two blades that, when they come together, they do what they’re created to do. For us, our house churches and public worship gathering are those two things.
So we alternate between the two.
Twice a month we have public worship gatherings, and the other weeks each person is in their house church.
So as you think about the last 12 months of planting, what do you think worked really well?
In July of 2009 we started Lansdale’s first ever Farmer’s Market, which was about a year in the marking. I remember early on I sat on the back patio of a borough council member’s house asking questions, attempting to learn about the DNA of the community, its needs and its personality. As we drank Cokes and talked, I broke in: “Renew is here to serve the community – to be an ally and an advocate. And we’re asking the question, ‘How can we bless the neighborhood?’ Would a farmer’s market be one way that would really serve Lansdale well?” I threw out other suggestions during that meeting as well, like starting a community garden (which we’ve started as well), having a centralized recycling program in the borough, volunteering at the newly re-developed Center for the Performing Arts, etc, but the farmers market idea was received with the most enthusiasm.
You wouldn’t believe how successful and how much energy this has produced in the wider community.
We were really specific not to promote it or attach it to Renew, even though we were the one sponsoring it. Eventually word just got around that we were doing it and people seemed to really like that the church was doing it and weren’t taking credit. I think it actually had a more positive effect than if we’d tried to make sure everyone knew.
In the last 12 months, what hasn’t worked?
We just recently went through a formal assessment of where our church is, so some of this is on our minds even as we’re talking about it now.
I think one thing that came to light is that people feel like they are a part of two separate churches, like maybe the dual expression is actually working against us. They feel connected to the people in their house church (which has about 8-12 people) and when they come to the worship service the next, they don’t know anyone.
I also think we stressed Monday through Saturday so much that perhaps we’ve devalued what happens on Sunday. I feel like the pendulum needs to come back the other way a bit. Not too much, but a bit.
That being said, one thing that came out in the assessment is that people really felt like they were living the most missionally when were in the infancy stages, when it was just the Core Team. It feels like there aren’t as many Doubt Nights or parties or cookouts, etc.
What is one failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
Children’s Ministry is definitely one of those. Our work with kids has never been that strong. I know it’s like that for most church plants, but I think it’s just not something we’ve ever done that well.
I think discipleship is another big one. We haven’t emphasized it enough, it’s been lower on the priority list and it just has to be something we get good at. Right now we’re not.
Ok. Let’s imagine it’s 365 days from now. What needs to be different in your community?
For me, I really want to see my teaching gifts used differently.
I feel like the past several years I’ve focused so much on making leaders that I haven’t focused as much on being a leader. So practically, I’ve not taught nearly as much in our gatherings as I’d like because I was giving other people opportunities, letting them try or practice.
I think I need to take a more primary role “on stage” (not in the rockstar way) as the teacher of this community. It’s where my primary gifting is, it’s what I love to do and I think I need to have a stronger presence in that teaching role within our community.
What is the biggest thing God has been teaching you in the past year?
I’ve been much more open to the working of the Holy Spirit than I ever have been before and that has led to some pretty incredible things.
So let’s think 5 years into the future. What does Renew look like? What’s happened?
Man, I’ve been thinking about that and it’s actually a hard question. I honestly don’t know where Renew Lansdale will be in 5 years.
But I know from the very beginning we said we wanted to be a church plant that plants churches. And the big stat that has always stuck out to me is that if you don’t plant a new church within 5 years of starting, you more than likely never will. So we really need to do that.
In the next 5 years we need to have birthed a child. We need to be a parent.
I mean, we currently have two apprentices who are with us for the next year and they are really excited about church planting, so that may be it? I don’t know. I just know we’re going to be planting a church.