So your church Imago Dei, is in Richmond, VA. Tell us a little about where you guys are focusing in Richmond.
In a broader sense, we’re trying to reach the whole city, but only until recently have we claimed a smaller geographical footprint. Because we started so scattered we really had a hard time creating missional momentum. So now, right outside the city on the near West end is where we are really focusing now…what is called District 1. We’re looking at it through two prominent high schools. But really, it’s a snapshot of the city. You have the upwardly mobile, affluent creative class. There are hard-working middle class people and then a group of people who live in poverty. All in very close proximity to each other. The church we rent is really at the center of that.
Tell us about the process you used for planting your church. What did that time look like? What did you do?
I think we are pretty unique in that three years ago, Chris Backert (my co-pastor) and I were both looking to plant churches in Richmond, independent of each other. Chris and I were friends and caught wind of what the other was thinking about and started talking. Once we figured out both of us were looking at planting the same kind of church, after praying and talking more, we decided to plant one church together.
So in the summer of 2008, which we’ve dubbed the Summer of Convergence, his crew from Blacksburg came and my group of Annapolis came down and we formed one community.
We started with one community that was trying to be really missional. We purposefully didn’t have a weekly service for the first year. Eventually we grew to have a sunday service along with Missional Communities (we call them Common Communities) and I believe our focus is still on mission and discipleship.
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?
I’ll tell you what we’re doing and then what we’re transitioning to in the Fall.
Currently we have two worship services a month, on the 2nd and 4th Sundays. Pretty standard service. Worship. Teaching. Biblical themes. Communion. On the 3rd Sunday of the month we have a Storytellers service where we have a huge, gourmet meal [in his previous line of work, Brian was a chef] and three people tell stories where their life and faith is intersecting. There isn’t a gospel presentation, just a chance for people to invite friends, eat good food and hear stories. On the 1st Sunday of the month we’d like our Common Communities to be meeting and serving, and then they meet throughout the week on an every-other-week basis. Our Journey Groups (which is our discipleship vehicle) meet in conjunction with the Common Communities, so they happen when the Common Communities happen.
Now we’re about to shift this to make it a little simpler. On the 1st and 3rd Sundays will be our Common Community weekends. They’ll have a meal, short teaching and break into their Journey Groups. One the 2nd and 4th Sunday we’ll have our worship service. Once a quarter on the 5th Sunday months we’ll do the Storytellers service.
So as you think about the last 12 months of planting, what do you think worked really well?
The Storytellers was a victory for us. We also took Easter and went and served rather than having a traditional Easter service. That was a real highlight. Also, almost 100% of our people give online, which really works for us and gives us freedom on Sunday mornings. Journey Groups (which are similar to Huddles) have worked well. We’ve had a Leaders Table where we’ve invited small groups of people to wrestle through with us some of the changes and transitions within the church. That’s been really helpful.
In the last 12 months, what hasn’t worked?
Our original approach to mission never got off the ground. First we tried by geography because of the proximity factor, which didn’t work too well. Then we tried to define proximity by relationships since there were already some pre-existing relationships and allowed for people to follow Persons of Peace. But the process didn’t really work and with the frequency of change, I think we overestimated people’s abilities to adapt. We had unwittingly made changes that had left people in the dust. I think we have learned to wait a bit more and adapt rather than overhaul.
What is one failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
One of the areas as a church plant that’s been hard for us is a couple examples of people in crisis: marriage issues, addictions, etc. We just didn’t have the resources available (as a church plant) to really help. There are some shining examples of where we really didn’t have what was needed and we scarred some people. It’s one of those things when I put my head on the pillow at night I really wish we could have done better.
Ok. Let’s imagine it’s 365 days from now. What needs to be different in your community?
One hope is that our church would be more multi-generational. We (my wife and I) just sent our youngest daughter to college, but our average age is in the mid 20′s. From a life experience and spiritual maturity stage, I hope our church will be more reflective of our city. We need that. Folks that are in their 30′s, 40′s and 50′s. My wife and I have been praying for 8 couples that would fit that criteria.
Secondly, not because we’re about numbers, we’d really like to see growth! We’ve had new people come and some people leave, but I’ve really been praying for conversion growth. I want to see the Holy Spirit break this place open and I want to see the Kingdom move.
What is the biggest thing God has been teaching you in the past year?
Growing in the ability to hear his voice. This is a dominant theme in our discussions, our team Huddles and in our church. He’s our leader, he’s the Shepherd and we want to hear his voice. We’ve spent a lot of time learning to hear it and applying it to our lives.
So let’s think 5 years into the future. What does Imago Dei look like? What’s happened?
Well Richmond is such a tribal city and 1 church can’t reach every single part of the city. But we really believe our church can contextualize and incarnate itself into smaller communities within each tribe that will be connected to the body that is Imago Dei. Church Hill. The Northside. West End. Over the river. The Near West End. We’d be scattered but we’d also be connected. And obviously church planting is in our DNA and is core to us. I’d just be so fired up if we were planting church in all of those areas.
I know recently you sent out a letter to your Prayer and Financial Support Network reflecting on what you’ve learned in the past two years. Care to share two nuggets?
- I think we really took for granted the abundance of spiritual maturity in the past. You know, we grew up with it and served in a community in Annapolis that was like being surrounded by the great crowd of witnesses. There was such a high level of spiritual maturity. In a church plant that level of spiritual maturity is often much lower and you really notice and miss it.
- Transformation takes a really long time! It’s a slow process both for me as someone who is being transformed and for the people around me.