Monday, September 29, 2008

Be the First!

I don't consider myself a church planter, although what we're trying to do with Element is essentially trying to plant a church, in the most organic sense of the word. One thing we have struggled to accommodate and work around is the reluctance on the part of some folks to be the first ________ in our community.

This is not a phenomenon unique to new or young churches either, I don't think.

It is difficult to be the only:
ethnic minority
single mom
couple with small children
senior citizen
married couple


In our Bible Belt suburban context, in our days of full-fledged "young adult" targeting, it was difficult attracting college students and young adults, because most of these folks want to go where there's already lots of college students and young adults. Big attendance is considered success, and small attendance begs the question, "What's wrong with this place?"

Very few want to be the first of their kind. They want to go where others have already blazed the trail, broken the seal, what-have-you. (I understand the appeal. There is certainly less required that way.)

In the current phase of our ministry, we need couples and families of all kinds to value what we do and what we're trying to do (in a nutshell, the things that set us apart from surrounding churches are heavy gospel-centrism and a missional approach to church "operations") and decide to be the first of their kind.

This is difficult for us because as a small community made up largely of young adults in their twenties, we don't have the expansive children's program or student ministry of the various megachurches all around us, nor do we have many (any?) of their numerous goods and services.
The things we can and do offer are not immediately appealing:
a community where everybody tends to know everybody else
a community that values every message being about Jesus
a community that spends most of its money on people outside the church walls
a worship service that is not heavily "produced"

In our cultural context, those willing to be the first are rare and extremely valuable. It makes sense to want to be where there are other couples and families. But it takes courage to be the first (or second or third) risking discomfort for the benefit of those coming after you.

If you are drawn to a community based on its values and mission but reluctant to dive in because you'd be the only minority (or caucasian), the only college student, the only single parent, the only "old person," the only divorced person, the only widow, the only family, the only whatever, be the first!

That community won't grow until people start being the first.


Brian said...

a community where everybody tends to know everybody else
a community that values every message being about Jesus
a community that spends most of its money on people outside the church walls
a worship service that is not heavily "produced"

I don't know... sounds pretty appealing to me. I think we'd seriously consider if there wasn't an 80 mile drive in the way.

Besides, sounds like you've got a good babysitter pool going on there. ;-)

Jared said...


Well, it's appealing to people who read my blog. To the average Bible Belt suburbanite Christian, not so much, I don't think. :-)

Philip said...

Great post. Very insightful. I really like how you expressed this "problem" er... challenge.

As the pastor of a small (but very traditional) church I get this too.

What we do is pray for "missionaries". People who will be the first _____, and know it, and even see it as their calling to be first so that they can attract others of their kind.

I even express it to them in that way when I visit them and encourage them to join our church. I say, "will you consider being missionaries? What I need you to do is show up. Be here regularly so that you are a dependable, regular presence. And then welcome other ______ when you see them visit."

I really like this post Jared. It will help me. Can I "borrow" this?

Jared said...

Phil, of course!

Marie said...

From a pragmatic point of view, I agree with you. I feel like being the first family with elementary school kids or whatever is helpful.

From a spiritual point of view, I am disappointed that people go to church for any other reason than to worship and serve the Lord.

I'd join a church of all senior citizens. I'd join a church of all men. My criteria: Is it Bible believing? Is it local? Are the sacraments properly administered?

The group of people I identify with? Fellow Christians. Regardless of their age, sex, or status in life.

Imagine the first converts in the era of Acts: "I don't know if I want to go to that Jerusalem church. It's a bunch of middle aged Jewish men, and most of them are single."

I think we've lost sight of what church actually is.