So your church, Austin Mustard Seed, is obviously in Austin, TX. Tell us a little bit about where you guys are planting.
Austin in general is a creative class city. Its’ main industry is ideas. University. Software. Design. Film. Technology. It was an intentional choice over 100 years ago with how to compete with Houston. Houston is about oil. Austin is about ideas.
The particular place we live is a neighborhood of Austin proper. We’re halfway between downtown and the city limits. Our house is about 5 minutes south from the place where everything bumps up to more affluent neighborhoods and better school systems. I like to refer to it as the do-nut. Where other churches don’t go. They either go into the city (downtown) or to the suburbs. The people in our area value being closer to the city but are protective about being around all sorts of different people. So it has a quasi-suburban feel but an urban mentality.
Tell us about the process you used for planting your church. What did that time look like? What did you do?
When we got to Austin (we moved here from Seattle) we just started inviting people into our home for a meal and a time to read scripture, talk and pray. Coming here, we knew one grad student and one family that was also moving to Austin. The student is still here, the family has moved on. We were incredibly intentional about relationships as I am bi-vocational and we started to ask how these things tied together: church and relationships. It’s very casual, very relational. It has structure, but wrapped around relationships. I guess now we have about 35 people who regularly are a part of our community, with about 20-25 each week.
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?
Currently it’s meeting in our home on Sunday and encouraging people to move into smaller spaces during the week. Women doing tea together and talking. Triads or accountability groups. We’re trying not to be rigid, but organically moving towards those smaller spaces.
So as you think about the last 12 months of planting, what do you think worked really well?
Taking our time.
Being bi-vocational lets us do this. We haven’t felt the pressure to be something we’re not or get to a specific place quickly. We can approach people and help them find a place, whether it is with us or another great church. With that posture, we’re starting to see the dividends of people feeling cared and loved for and doing the same in return.
We’ve also been really intentional about forming relationships. We have a structure but the structure serves our relationships. Our primary focus is to cultivate relationships. Inherent underlying all of this is we want to be cross-cultural missionaries in Austin. So we think about it like we would if we were in another country. If we were in another country, we’d have to make everything about relationships. So that’s what we’re doing.
In the last 12 months, what hasn’t worked?
We’re not trying to be underground, but we don’t have an open, visible presence in the city. I mean, our home is open, and it’s the stage where we are probably at, but how does Austin know we’re here? It’s a shortcoming to how we’ve started. But then, we’re also reaching people who wouldn’t go to church even on Easter.
The second thing is that we have lots of relationships with people who aren’t part of the church, but currently we don’t have people coming into our community, being a part of it, who weren’t at least somewhat open to faith or Jesus. We primarily have people who left the church or were detached from it but did have some church background.
What is one failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
I think we have failed to find a way to be the church outside of what we do on Sunday, which goes back to the presence in the city thing.
Ok. Let’s imagine it’s 365 days from now. What needs to be different in your community?
If we’re still in our house only, I’ll be concerned.
We would have allowed ourselves to get comfortable with who are here. Things that are living reproduce and multiply. I think we’ll be meeting in a public space and at least another group meeting in a home.
We also need more people meeting in groups of 2, 3 or 4′s to study and pray together. Our gathering is now at a place where we don’t have that kind of intimacy.
What is the biggest thing God has been teaching you in the past year?
Listen to me.
Trusting that the structure and the project list for how our church works isn’t going to be found in a church plant book written in some other context. That the Spirit is actively shaping this. When I listen more to God, he certainly seems to speak more!
So let’s think 5 years into the future. What does Austin Mustard Seed look like? What’s happened?
I love the parish model. I love what we’re seeing in Jon Tyson’s church in New York City. I see multiple worship settings in different parts of the city networked together with maybe 150 in each gathering. A pastor overseeing it and it being a community of 3-4 scattered, mid-sized groups throughout the geographic “parish” of that community.