Recently, a friend who pastors at another church asked me some pretty direct learning lessons that I had pulled from my experience with the church plant (I’ll write more specifically about the plant later). I thought they were pretty terrific questions, so I thought I would post them, and share with you what I shared with him.
His questions were:
1. How did you go about (or think about) prioritizing your hires? Who would you have hired first, second… and why?
2. What was the most effective means of engaging and connecting to people? What has been your “evangelism” strategy?
So, here is how I went about answering his questions:
…I’d be happy to share anything I’ve learned or any experiences with you, as unpolished as they may be right now. My thoughts are still probably a little muddy and covered in the emotional baggage of closing the plant, but I do believe that after 3+ years of the plant, I’ve been given some significant blessings that I can share.. Any way, on to your questions.
1. From the very beginning, I knew my first hire needed to be an administrator. Whether one in the sense of an office administrator (a.k.a the artist formerly know as “the secretary”) or in some other role that fit the context. My strengths are in teaching, vision casting, and drawing people together – not in keeping books, regular written/”E” communication, database management, or the like. I needed an engineer to balance my heavy “artist” leanings. My entire seed team (the handpicked bunch I started the plant with) were essentially all artists too – not all in their trade, but in their approach to life and ministry. It often felt as if our rhythm as a plant was all Yin and no Yang. To those I talked to who didn’t stay with our plant, they communicated that we had a huge heart, but often looked very disorganized and inconsistent. Some of that is just the nature of a plant, but some of it could have been dealt with better.
The next person I would have hired would have been a person who would have worked only on building and multiplying missional communities (if you are unfamiliar with the model, you can see more information at http://www.somacommunities.org, it is the general approach that we took). Our missional communities were to be the heart and lifeblood of the community, not the Sunday morning gathering. Having a second person to focus solely on the development of our MCs would have freed me to work with MCs as needed, but also to focus on other areas such as building relationships with our new people/fundraising/networking. Because growing the number of MCs were the core of our plan, having two staffers being able to address the needs of the MCs would have been a significant blessing.
2. Our evangelism was an evolving engagement with our community, and I thought it was terrible/wonderful almost all of the time. Coming from the heritage we come from, evangelism is sold to believers as a really cut and dry thing, right? Tell them the truth, plot the path to salvation, and boom, dunk them! None of that narrative makes sense outside of the vacuum of systematic theology. That story didn’t connect, convict, or persuade anyone that God was anything more that a bully, or for our atheist friends, a weak system of leveraging guilt onto people so that one would feel compelled to a set of rules/morality.
So, I told my crew that they couldn’t save anyone. That they did not have the power, the wherewithal, the strength, or the intelligence to save any one. BUT, they could point to the one who could. “Reveal Jesus” became our biggest rally cry. I encouraged the team to life fully engaged in life, and wherever there was good being done, restoration taking place, creation being blessed, to point to it, because God was present there. I told my team to tell stories of the good being done in the city, to partner with the good already taking place, and to weave the narrative of God into it there. As a plant, we dedicated ourselves to never begin a competing ministry with a non-prof or program that already existed. Instead, we would join them, let that organization take the credit, and be embedded missionaries where the reconciliation between God and humanity was already taking place.
With that, our people met new people. Those people were invited, to parties (we threw LOTS of parties, cookouts, park outings, movie nights), and eventually, to our MCs. One MC in April of this year had 8 seed team members and 18 guests (4 of whom called themselves agnostic/atheist). When I spoke at MCs, the tone and teaching was about Jesus, about hell on earth, and about the potential of the kingdom being as much here and now, as it is something to look to ahead of us.
For the team, I told them to invite people into their life (not just to attendance at PCC events/gatherings), and to be invited into others lives. They were instructed to join yoga groups, coach soccer teams, join an artists forum, do anything that put them in direct contact with other people of the city.
So, for us, evangelism had to quit being a story about saving people from hell, and it needed to be focused on the majority of the Gospel narrative, the full life of the kingdom and the defeat of hell on earth now. The plant became all too familiar with my personal mantra that I picked up from Gary L. Thomas’ “Seeking the Face of God” – “I want Hell breaking away at my feet wherever I walk”.
I don’t know what your theology on heaven/hell, the Kingdom, or salvation are, so this might not sit easily with you. But when we saw people who had never seriously read the Bible ACTUALLY BEGIN to study the scriptures, join discipleship groups, read the Bible publicly during MC, and pray with us.. I’m convinced the gospel began to take hold of lives that we ourselves could not have saved…
So, that is what I shared.