I’m speaking at a workshop today at the Planting for Christ conference. My theme: Planting in a City Suburb. Here are my notes . . . part 1.
A. Cities and suburbs
Wikipedia defines it this way (highlighting how the term means something a little different in the US from the UK). A suburb is a residential area, either existing as part of a city or urban area (as in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city (as in the United States and Canada).
English Heritage goes for the following: In general terms, suburbs can perhaps be best described as outgrowths or dependencies of larger settlements – somewhere with a clear relationship with a city or town but with its own distinct character.
Maybe we can best say: a city suburb is a distinct, recognisable area within a city, often with an integrity and character that is valued by the local community.
2. What is the relationship between the city and the suburb?
For cities like Birmingham (perhaps to be contrasted with global cities) a typical pattern would be
Urban-core, inner city, inner suburbs, outer suburbs, rural
B. What does it mean to plant in a city-suburb?
Rather than appealing to a sector of society you are taking responsibility for a part of the mission field geographically – John James, Helier Chapel.
You might identify the community by a post-code, a housing estate, political ward, but usually by a named area.
1. Contextualisation is essential
- Contextualisation is inevitable
- Contextualisation is biblical
- Contextualisation is necessary
- Contextualisation is complicated
2. When planting in the suburbs, community is key to contextualisation
a. Learn the culture – Ron Edmunson comments: Every city, every village, and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matters most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value?
b. Learn the market – Chip Weeler asks: Are schools an option for a building? Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What are the major problems, concerns, and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics?
c. Commit to the community. Planting in suburbs takes time and a great deal of patience.
3. Top Ways to Connect to Your Community
a. Be specific and strategic with your contacts
Very often this means starting with the families; mums and toddlers, kids & youth, messy church.
We’re five years in and we’ve seen very little fruit. We are still right at the start. But there is a whole community of people whose kids have been with us and we’re having conversations we wouldn’t have had three years ago – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
b. Build missional communities as a key strategy to reach the community
In City-suburb planting the church needs to engage the community.
Telling members of the plant simply to ‘go and be missional’ in an impenetrable community simply won’t work.
Missional small groups are a surer way in to the community and a training ground for plant members. The leader’s job is to create a context for mission within a community setting. For these groups to work at least the hosts and leaders need to live in or very near the community being reached.
- Small group bible-studies are open to the local community (ie a mixed group of Christians and non-Christians). All the questions are aimed at our belief system – Andy Weatherley. The danger is that you de-skill the Christians in their Bible-handling skills.
- Small groups are intentionally outward focused and look to draw in members of the community through a variety of social gatherings e.g. Eating food, celebrating national events such as Jubilee, Football World Cup, Christmas, Oscars Film night, . . . whatever your community is in to.
- Small groups are often the first point of contact with non-Christians.
Small group leaders need to be evangelists as well as Bible-study group leaders. A church-planter adopting this model needs to give a disproportionate amount of time and attention to training up leaders
Community group leaders are the key to the success of our church – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
c. Be a servant
- Street Associations
- Neighbourhood Watch Schemes
d. Use media to connect with your community
Chip Weeler suggests: Invest as much as you can in a Web site—a good Web site. Have the Web site up and running before the launch of the church, and use it as a tool for outreach. Post sermons, worship services, and areas of involvement. Make sure that the Web site clearly spells out where you meet, when you meet, how to dress, what to expect, and how the kids will be taken care of . . .take advantage of online communities such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube and other popular, free online sources.
Use photos from the community, landmarks from community, community events, etc. on your page. Give the casual viewer of your site links to the community they can identify with.
Produce a local newsletter; highlighting what’s going on in the community, featuring church-run or hosted events but not exclusively.
Follow Twitter feeds relevant to your community.
e. Join with community events (to use the language of Brad House ‘read the rhythms of your community’)
Have a presence at community events but be careful how you use it.
Case Study: Grace Church: Co-Co Mad (arty, drama, crafty festival)
Where are the places people like to be in your suburb? Build in visits into your ministry as a planter and team.
Schools, Library, Gym, shops,
g. Run your own church events & activities
• Curry club
• B-B-Q and family games day
• Clothes exchange party
• Gospel choir
• Football team
Looking for a great holiday in 2012. According to the New York Times Birmingham is ranked 19 in their list of 45 places to go in 2012. In a list that didn’t mention Paris, Rome or Madrid Birmingham even came ahead of Space! The reason? ‘Could England’s second city be first in food?’
David Thomas writing in the Independent said ‘six months ago I did something that few others can claim, or would even want to claim to have done. I took my wife, Clare, to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary with a night of romantic bliss… in Birmingham.’
‘It could be LA. It could by Sydney. It’s actually Birmingham. And The New York Times is quite right. It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012.’
But if you’re a Christian I have better reason than food for you to not just make a visit but to come and live in our great city. 2020birmingham is looking to work with people, churches and organisations seeking to plant churches in our city. Maybe God would say to you ‘It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012, 13,14….’
Speakers included Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, Neil Powell and Jonathan Bell.
The audio is now available to download and enjoy.
On Thursday and Friday of last week ‘for all seasons’ church planting conference took place in Birmingham co-hosted by Acts29 Western Europe and 2020birmingham. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon. But here are eight take homes for me from the two days.
1. God is doing amazing things in our nation(s). To have 400 people all seriously thinking about church planting (and a further 220 at a London based conference on planting the day before) highlights a transformation in the church scene in the UK and Western Europe.
2. The atmosphere at the conference was just fantastic. A real unity was evident and the whole time was remarkably free of tribalism and suspicions of others. There was just a huge desire, borne out of a spirit-filled generosity, to bless others. The attitude was one of ‘how can I help you? How can I bless you?’ By passing on freely anything and everything we really wanted to help others be better planters! At a dinner with Mark Driscoll on the Thursday evening we had representatives of New Frontiers, FIEC, the Anglican Diocese and Elim Pentecostal all sitting down together thinking how we might work together to get the gospel to the city of Birmingham!
3. Our failure to attempt great things for God is often borne out of fear of men. That means we need to recognise that ‘it is a sin to take too much of a risk in planting but it is as much of a sin not to take a risk out of fear.’ Mark Driscoll
4. On a similar theme it’s not enough for a small church to think we can’t do anything when it comes to church planting. True a small church may not be able to plant itself but it can contribute to a bigger vision (prayer, finances, wisdom and knowledge of a community or city).
A church planting conference should not just be full of church planters any more than a missions conference should be full of people about to head off overseas. As Rick Warren has said elsewhere ‘it is not a sin to be a small church but it is a sin to be a small church with a small vision’.
5. It really does matter what motivates us in church planting. To have a healthy church plant we need a healthy church planter and the gospel at the heart of our motivates is essential.
Steve Timmis challenged us with the question ‘Are we looking to church planting for our justification? Looking to church planting for our place in the world?’ And when that is a danger the antidote to that is remembering ‘church planter, our identity is ‘in Christ’’. And that has huge implications because succeed or fail (humanly speaking) I am secure in who I am. ‘My church plant can break up into a 100 different pieces but nothing can change the fact that I am ‘in Christ’ Steve Timmis.
6. ‘Every year you plant your church again’. Mark Driscoll reminded us that the way to grow your church plant and be effective in leadership is never to stop being a church planter but to look to the same mindset to keep growing.
7. The 2020birmingham initiative reminded us all that it takes a big vision to impact a big city. If our vision is to plant a church, even a large church, it has to give way to God’s vision which is nothing less than his global fame. If our vision is to reach our cities for Christ rather than plant a church that requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. In the past 10 to 15 years we have undergone one important shift from accidental planting to intentional planting. Now we need the second shift from intentional planting to intentional partnerships in church planting. Working together to fulfil a vision that no one church is equipped to make on its own.
8. Finally, church planting must, if it is to be true to the gospel, never be about empire building. ‘How do I live out my identity? By being a lover of God and a lover of others. Whoever it is about it is never about me.’ Steve Timmis
Dreaming big for God
Expect great things from God attempt great things for God so said William Carey the founder of the modern missionary movement.
I guess like me you find the quote inspiring but what does such trust in God along with such godly ambition begin to look like in your life and in mine?
In a book I’m reading called Exponential, Dave and Jon Ferguson, lead Pastors of Commnuity Church, Naperville, Iiinois made some very helpful observations of the need to dream big and how big dreams begin to change things not least your own life:
I have found that when you dream big, it changes how you think, how you act, and it can even change those around you.
Not least because ‘allowing your heart and mind to pursue a vision that is bigger than you can handle will change you in some very significant ways.’
1. Big dreams change your questions
The bigger your dream, the more you challenge and stretch your mind with tough questions. The size of your dream will often determine the types of questions you ask. Small dreams that are within your grasp and easily managed require one set of questions. Big dreams lead you to ask an entirely different set of questions, questions you would probably never ask otherwise.
At City Church Birmingham we’ve asked the question ‘how can we plant a daughter church?’ now we’re asking a different kind of question ‘how can we see 20 churches planted by the year 2020?’ Only when we started to ask that question did we realise that the only way we could ever see that happen was through seeking working partnerships with other church-planting churches in the city of Birmingham, churches we hardly new and churches of whom we had previously felt no real need to connect with. All because our ambitions were too small.
2. Big dreams change your prayers
Big questions also force you to ask questions to which you do not know the answer. When you have questions and you don’t know how to answer them, who do you turn to? God! Big dreams force us to ask the types of questions that lead to greater dependence on God.
As we start to form new partnerships in the city we pray that God would protect our unity. As we look at church-planting with no resources to fund or
support planting so we pray that God would provide. As we ask questions of strategy such as ‘how do we reach a city of a million?’, ‘how do we practically work together?’ so we find perhaps more than ever we need wisdom from God and so we ask him knowing that he gives generously (James 1:3).
3. Big dreams change others
Big dreams are also contagious. They are infectious. They not only change you, but they can also slowly begin to change your friends and those around you!
We’re thrilled to find that in the first year of running the ‘2020 Planters Programme’ that six church-planters, all committed to planting in the city, are gathering to meet every couple of weeks, pray for one another, share ideas, vision and resources. As we listen to each other, share and pray so we are inspired and urged on in the task. It all seems so much more possible at the end of a Wednesday morning than it did at the start.
4. Big dreams change you
As our dreams get bigger, our doubts will inevitably grow.
That’s certainly been my experience too. The bigger the dream the more you are constantly reminded that it is beyond your ability to deliver it. Wherever there is faith doubt will be right there along side.
At present we are planning a second conference for 2020 birmingham this time the conference will be jointly hosted by Acts29 Western Europe (5-6th May). Mark Driscoll will be speaking and 2020 will have an opportunity to share something of the vision we believe God has given us for this city. As the conference approaches so we feel ever more unworthy because of our sin, unable because of the size of the task and unprepared to answer the questions raised by the task before us. But each times those feelings rise there is a fresh opportunity for faith to grow as we remember that we only attempt great things for God because we expect great things from God.
So what stops us dreaming big dreams?
I find that there are two common fears that keep us and our churches from taking risks for the sake of mission. The first is our fear of failure. We say to ourselves. ‘I’m afraid it just won’t work…and I can’t accept the possibility of failure.’ The second fear that keeps us from taking risks is closely related – it’s the fear of loss. We work for years to build a large church or successful career, and our ‘success’ can become the very thing that gets in the way of our taking more significant risks. We tell ourselves, ‘I’ve accomplished too much to lose it all.’ If it is a fear of failure or loss that is holding you back, let me remind you of the grace of God. Walking faithfully in obedience to God is what matters, not your success or failure in the eyes of the world.
When it comes to taking risks, the important question you need to ask is when was the last time you took a risk and trusted God? When was the last time your courageously followed Jesus and did something that was clearly beyond your own abilities? When was the last time you followed Jesus so closely that it was uncomfortable, maybe even a bit scary?
What might this mean for you?
Dave Harvey author of Resucing Ambition wants us to keep asking this question:
What is the Spirit-constrained ambition that God wants us to indulge for his glory right where we are?
And we could also ask:
- Is there a ministry opportunity I’ve simply been too scared to take?
- What is stopping me from going for it? Is it fear of failure? Fear of loss?
- Who can I talk and pray through this dream with?
- Who can help me shape and realise this dream?
- How deliberate I have been in praying for guidance or in asking God to enable this dream?
- Am I being held back by small ambitions that must give way to something out of my reach?
We carry the same gospel Paul carried, and it requires us to have a similar ambition – Dave Harvey
A good friend recently told me the story of how a mother could get her children to swallow anything by rolling bitter pills in butter and coating the butter in sugar. It tasted good to the kids and they swallowed whatever they were given.
Such deceitful behaviour doesn’t stop with medicene! Take entertainment for example. What we consume through TV. film and music is like a pill in sugar. We end up swallowing allsorts of things unintentionally. What we might well spit out if served to us ‘Straight-up’ we swallow without a thought because it tastes so good.
ALL media contains a message, even entertainment, and like sugar-coating a pill the ideas that are absorbed have consequences on our thinking and living.
So Christian do you seek to be only entertained by what you watch or listen to or do you seek to engage with what you watch?
A Missionary in culture
Driscoll regards himself not as a consumer of culture but a missionary in culture. What’s the difference?
As a missionary, I do not view culture passively, merely as entertainment. Rather, I engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview.
I teach my children to do the same. We watch shows with our children. Those shows are recorded on a TiVo so that we can stop and have discussions during them, helping our kids understand the ideology that is being presented and how to think about it critically. We want our kids to be innocent but not naïve. Naïve Christians are the most vulnerable to engaging culture ignorantly and unpreparedly. If a Christian kid does not know how to walk as a Christian in culture, it’s no surprise that once he or she leaves their parents’ home after graduation, they are statistically likely to fail continue walking with Jesus.
Driscoll as a pastor sees it as his responsibility to teach the church how to think critically about media.
Like our children, our goal is not to create a safe Christian subculture as much as to train missionaries to live in culture like Jesus.
As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves. For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.
7 tips for getting more engaged
1. Try listening to a different radio station for an hour a day each day for a week.
2. Watch, if only once, programmes that are most talked about at your work or amongst your friends that you’ve never watched. Think through why they are popular, what message they convey and how the gospel interacts with those ideas.
3. Use the web to read journalism from different perspectives. A short cut approach can be found by visiting the New Stateman which links to 10 different but interesting articles from the papers each day.
4. Watch a film with some Christian friends or better still watch with a mix of friends and chat about it afterwards (tell everyone this is what you plan to do BEFORE you watch the film). Do your research in advance. Try Damaris for some good resources.
6. Ask your pastor to preach on culture and engagement or ask for some church-based workshops on film, tv, etc.
7. Above all else remember that cultural engagement is essential for Christians. It protects us from swallowing those bitter pills of untruth that undermine our faith or the faith of those around us. Understanding the world around us including it’s thought-forms and ideas enables us to build bridges with those around us. The more engaged we are the more opportunities are provided to open up a conversation that leads us to a gospel conversation.
Nine ‘take-aways’ from Viral Churches
I’ve been reading Viral Churches: helping church planters become movement makers as we look to plant 20 churches in Birmingham by the year 2020. Why should Birmingham churches make this an urgent priority? Let’s start with nine reasons in this post from Stetzer and Bird.
1. What this country needs is for each person to have an opportunity to hear the gospel in a way that they can understand and respond to.
2. Church planting must be our default mode for evangelism
‘The story of the book of Acts is that ‘the early church implemented the Great Commission primarily by planting churches’.
‘The reason why church planting is the new evangelism is the disproportionately high number of spiritual conversions experienced in new churches.’
3. No single congregation or denomination can reach a million people in our city of Birmingham.
4. It will take the planting of many new churches working alongside existing churches to reach every person in the city.
‘Among churches of all sizes, growing churches are rare. In fact, they only make up about 20 percent of our churches today. The Continue reading »
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