Category Archives: church launching

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 03

The numbers game is one of the trickiest in the God world (aka church). There are at least three pieces to this dynamic.

1. We all say it isn’t about ‘how many’, but we all compare our ‘how many’ and feel either inferior or superior because of it. Some of us more than others.

2. Then there is the sustainability dilemma. If the church is going to support itself it takes enough people to make that feasible. But then it isn’t about making money, or guaranteeing an income for the pastor and other staff.  

3. On the more positive side we know that we have a responsibility to grow in both depth and breadth. Not one or the other.

As you evaluate your ministry try dealing with the numbers game this way: Numbers are important. They let you know some very important things about the sort of systems and resources needed. The numbers help you set goals that match your vision and calling. And they tell you whether your ministry is growing or shrinking. Remember, the answer to “Why?” is the important piece to this.

But while that bigger number is important, the key number is always ‘one.’ Never take your focus off of the individual. What is each person’s experience who enters your doors, who attends a small group gathering, who is encountered at a service event, who has a crisis in their life and needs your community’s ministry, who is met by a person shaped by your community? Who are you for the person standing right in front of you, right now? There is no such thing as the community’s experience, or the neighborhood’s reaction to your church. It is the experience and reaction of each individual. Build, equip, structure your community to be about the number that always comes first, one.

“The Beginning is Near”

The indomitable Jacob’s Well “Get the Word Out” people keep coming up with more ideas about how to let their neighbors know they’ve got something they want to share. So to spread the news about Jacob’s Well expanding to the Longfellow neighborhood in south Minneapolis they started building these ‘snowfellows’ all over the place. Each holding the placard, “The Beginning is Near” and our web address.

I guess we aren’t a fire and brimstone church. We think that God is more promise and hope. And we think that is equally or even more so transforming than its gloom and doom cousin. We expect glimmers of the kingdom to appear all around us. In the joy and wonder of life, and in the pain and problems of life. We hold on to the crazy Jesus idea that nothing keeps God out.

So the end… who knows, I suppose it is always just around the corner. But the beginning… ahhhh… the beginning, it is upon us. Preach it snowfellows!

Maybe the name of this post should have been “Evangelism we can live with.”

Most of us aren’t here yet!

We believe this with all our hearts. It’s got two sides to it.

One – “Jacob’s Well is mostly made up of people who aren’t here…” Jacob’s Well isn’t for or about ‘us.’ It is about and for the people God has called, the people God has in mind when God said, “Let there be Jacob’s Well.”

Two – “Yet!” We expect them to come, or better yet, we expect to go to them. It is one thing for us to know we are incomplete, it is another to believe that God is at work to fulfill us and for us to live and act in that expectation.

What is so amazing about this is how this is coming to life within the community as we prepare to launch our second site. The night before the first preview service the Board and spouses met for a social dinner together (it is a whole other story about how we could possibly afford to do that the night before our first preview!) and while we were talking about the journey that has been Jacob’s Well our chair noted how close we had all become and how much we had done together that we loved and were proud of. And (this is the clincher) that if it were not for Jacob’s Well no one in that room would have known anyone else (spouses excepted…)

The next morning, about 45 minutes before the first service was to begin at Longfellow, we gathered for last minute details and prayer. Our Site Leader who has only been around for about six months made a similar comment. He noted that most of us haven’t known each other very long but we were all here because of God’s work in Jacob’s Well. He asked us to think forward six months when this circle would be vastly expanded with people we by then knew, loved and had shared significant experiences with, but right now we don’t even know exist. And just imagine what we will accomplish, be and reach with them as the next layer of who we are.

God’s vision for Jacob’s Well may have started in my mind and heart, but it is contagious and owned by so many other people now. That giving away and ownership by others is the fulfillment of a vision. That is why I get up each morning to help Jacob’s Well remain faithful to it. And it tells me to start listening for the next stage of that vision.

Launching a ‘not very good church’ on purpose

Cover of mailer for Jacob's Well Longfellow preview

Is this anyway to attract people to our church? We think so. Obviously not if you were trying to get people who already think church is just fine. But why would we do that? They are probably going to church already. What about all those people (a majority today?) who think there is something basically wrong with ‘church’?

From the very beginning Jacob’s Well was designed to speak to people who have given up or are ready to give up on church, God and faith. It seems ridiculous to try to interest them by claiming what a good example of church we are. The copy on the back of our mailer says, “If your image of church is like most people’s, we’re glad not to be a very good example of it. So instead of being another church, we’ve tried to be a “what if” church. One known for being honest, thinking, relevant and casual so people can be themselves – you know, their real selves.”

We believe that life needs God at its center and Jesus in its heart, but we also believe that for that to happen people need churches that are authentic to who they are. People want their church to be in their own  neighborhood so it resonates with, pulls together and speaks to people with whom they already share community.  That’s why we’re in the process of starting Jacob’s Well Longfellow just 4 miles from Jacob’s Well Field in this densely populated urban neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

We had our first monthly  “preview” service on Sunday at Anne Sullivan School on Sunday (Jan. 24, 2010) and had a great time. The school and district have been great partners and the building is wonderful. Most of all, the team of people, many brand new to the Jacob’s Well community, have been incredible. A little over 100 people attended, nearly half of them new to Jacob’s Well. A great start. But it is just a start. We want to add value to the Longfellow neighborhood and be part of the struggles and joys of the community and individuals. We don’t just want to expand, we want to fulfill what God has in mind for us. And we need to let them know we are here. As I’ve said a thousand times, “It doesn’t do any good to start a church if no one knows about it.”

Starting another church is a lot of work. Being an authentic presence is a much bigger task, but that is what it is all about.

[Want to know more about why we would do this? Read “Most of us aren’t here yet.”]

‘Building a church’ or ‘A church building’?

My 89 year old mom is wonderful. As healthy as she is, her short-term memory is My mompretty well gone. But she’ll beat you at Scrabble or do a crossword puzzle faster than you. We have great conversations… often the same one.

The other day I called and as we chatted she asked me about my church, so I told her what is going on at Jacob’s Well. Then she asked what she often asks, “Are you going to be building a church?” I once again explained how it was our plan to keep using public spaces, like the school we are in now, because of the baggage many people who don’t go to church have about churches.

Then she said, “Oh good, you’re busy reaching people, not just building a church.” And I said, with a tear forming in my eye, “You got it, Mom. I don’t think I could say it better myself.”

There is something very special when your mom or dad understands the heart of what you are about and pats you on the back for it. Thanks, Mom!

If you are interested in’ our commitment to not owning a church building (or being a church, rather than having one) check out these previous posts.

“Building” – A verb, not a noun, for churches

More on Churches and Buildings

Pastors can be their family’s worst pastor

I know many pastors and church developers read this site, so here is a series of thoughts that I’ve been discovering or been taught. Hopefully you’ll be able to implement what is of value before you have to learn them the hard way – like I did…

You’ve heard people say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” well, not always true. Some of the characteristics that make me a better pastor for my congregation, make me a worse pastor for my family. In particular it is being there for the congregation. Always being available is great, but if you are, your congregation and community will take advantage of you, and you will not be available for your family.

Message to your congregation/community: “You are important to me!”

Message to your family: “Other people are more important to me!”

Spouse and kids can be (and rightly so) hurt and resentful. And how can they argue?!? You are doing good and important stuff. The laundry list of the things I get dragged into each week stuns me, and the little my family hears about it often shocks them. Not only is it good and important, but it is supposed to be God’s work. How can your kids, or your husband or wife, compete with that? How can they say, “I want more of you. Don’t give so much to God.” They can’t. Well actually, they often do, but they do so through rebellion, giving up on the church, God or you.

Your kids just want a dad, or a mom. They don’t want you to be a pastor, or a superhero for St. Whatever’s.

Boundaries are part of the answer. Have inviolable time set aside for the family. Don’t just make sure you are at the important events in their lives, set aside enough space to be part of making the memorable, unimportant moments.

Don't be SuperStupid

Don't be SuperStupid

Better than boundaries is making sure the ministry of your congregation belongs to the congregation, not you. Don’t worry, you won’t become dispensable. The “S” on your chest may just be standing for “Stupid” instead of “Super.” [That’s a Rick Warren line…] There is more than enough work that you will not be able to pass off to someone else. But the truth is that God pulled the people who make your congregation together because they need each other, not just because they need you. Design the DNA to turn your people to each other. More gifts, more hands, better ministry.

And you… you can do what you are uniquely called and equipped to do. And… you can let your family know that nothing God gave you is more important than they are.

Jacob’s Well in Sioux Falls

I’m in Sioux Falls today (Thursday, 10.23) and tomorrow at a “Churches Planting Churches” conference. I’m speaking about Jacob’s Well as a congregation that was launched by another church two years ago (Bethlehem Lutheran Church) and as a church that is launching a new church. We are planning our establishment of a second site in 2009). But while I’m sharing some of our learnings I am mostly just trying to learn everything I can. Keep me and all these people thinking brave thoughts about birthing new churches in many and various ways. Thanks!