MetroGrace – church planting in philadelphia

Church Planting, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry

MetroGrace is an urban church development ministry. Our purpose is to gather, train, send and coach teams to develop gospel-centered, community-based churches in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.

Gathering: We gather urban workers by sharing our vision and hosting short-term mission teams. We share our vison in a monthly newsletter that details God’s work in Philadelphia. This allows us to share with supportive friends from all over the world. (Contact us if you’d like to receive our newsletter.) We send speakers to churches, schools and conferences. They help others to see the needs of the city and invite friends to serve. We also recruit workers by hosting short-term mission teams. These teams help cultivate the soil for new church plants and strengthen existing churches. This exposure to urban ministry enables informed response to God’s call.

Training: MetroGrace trains urban missionaries through internships. Summer interns serve for 8-12 weeks. They receive hands-on training in urban ministry while receiving credit from their college or seminary. Church planting interns serve for 18-24 months as they prepare to lead a team to establish a new church.

Sending: We send teams to establish new urban churches. We assist the team in its own development. We connect the group with a network of urban churches. We help them formulate a plan. We guide the team in discovering financial support. And, we assist with the launch of the church plant.

Coaching: MetroGrace coaches teams to establish new urban churches. For at least two years, the team leader meets regularly with a coach. Encouragement, advice and assistance are provided during these formative years of the new church.

Our Goal: When we’ve accomplished our purpose, at least ten biblically relevant, reproducing churches will glorify God by transforming lives in neighborhoods throughout the city. These believers will renew their city by acting to influence their culture. And Philadelphia will truly become the City of Brotherly Love.

If interested in joining MetroGrace on a small group, summer internship or a church-planting team contact Kurt Miller / kurt@metrograce.org / @kurtmiller01

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Have We Got ‘Equipping’ Right?

Church Planting, Discipleship, Equipping, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry, Urban Poverty

 

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Within my denominational affiliation I serve on a team called E-Net. The purpose of the team is to shine a light on the need for pastors and churches to better understand and implement the biblical mandate to ‘equip the saints.’  A recent summary communication from our E-Net team says, “Equipping grows directly out of Ephesians 4:11-16, one of the most significant passages of the New Testament, yet one of the most neglected. Why is it neglected? One reason is that too many people do not realize that in this passage the terms “apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher” refer to functions in the church, and not positions.

“Another reason is that adopting an equipping culture represents a huge paradigm shift. Our [pastoral] training emphasizes preparing us for doing ministry, rather than for equipping others in ministry. We can do ministry better and faster than having to equip others to do it, and much of our identity comes from doing it ourselves. Too many think that equipping and training are synonyms. However, the root meaning of katartismon (equipping) is to bind or to join. Though you cannot equip without training, you can train without equipping. Equipping incorporates joining believers to ministry opportunities. Equipping transforms ministry consumers into ministry participants.”

E-Net’s position is this:

  1. Every church is to fulfill each of the five ministry functions of Ephesians 4:11.
  2. The Lord sends gifted people to every church to serve as “joints and ligaments,” the mid-level leaders committed to helping join the members to ministries.
  3. To equip is to identify both the ministry needs and the available people, seeking to bring them together, usually through involvement in ministry teams.
  4. Through equipping the entire church grows up into Christ, the Head, from whom the whole body is joined and held together by every supporting ligament.
  5. As a result, the church grows and is built up in love, as each part does its work.

I serve in Philadelphia with MetroGrace. We believe God has called us together to raise-up followers of Jesus who help release neighborhoods from Satan’s strongholds by starting gospel-centered and community-based churches. Last year Anecia (my wife) and I had this sense that we could be part of God’s answer to the cries of the the city, and especially those of the urban poor. We relocated our lives to focus our best attention on loving God and neighbors in need in Philadelphia.

While it is easy for our MetroGrace team to be overwhelmed by what is in front of us each day, we sense a call to multiply ourselves and to see more light shine in dark places. We have no desire to help build a mega institution as a vehicle for our own benefit. Rather, we seek to raise-up teams of Christian workers able to go and pioneer, reproduce and multiply strategic neighborhood mission churches throughout the city, and especially among the urban poor. This means that we must get equipping right!

One of my core convictions is ‘organic growth’ which for me means using reproducible models of nurturing, equipping and raising-up of new teams and leaders as the means of growing workers and local Jesus-centered (gospel-centered) movements from within our communities. Responding to urban poverty, helping spark Christian movements in neighborhoods, seeing real transformation requires us “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  (Ephesians 4:12 NIV). We cannot depend solely or primarily on outside help. We must equip the saints!

We are committed to assisting MetroGrace to become a gospel-centered, community-based church planting movement. This will have the greatest opportunity for success as we follow the five-point recommendations of E-Net. We must train our folks, and future church-planting team members, to grow new believers into Jesus-centered workers, serving together in teams, to impact their neighborhoods for real community transformation.

Your thoughts?

Unique Challenges Facing Urban Church Planters

Church Planting, cities, Discipleship, Equipping, Notable Blogs, Other Authors, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry

Unique Challenges Facing Urban Church Planters
by J. Allen Thompson

Paul G. Hiebert, a keen observer of the mission of the church worldwide, pinpoints the unique opportunities for witness in the urban sphere. He notes that in the age of globalism, in contrast with other periods in history, we face both secularism and postmodernism. Secularism, a view that denies the existence of God, marginalizes those who continue to hold religious convictions, because it relegates religion to the private sphere of personal opinions and feelings. Postmodernism, in contrast, affirms spiritual experience but views it as pragmatic and relative.

The basic religious debate in city culture, therefore, centers on the uniqueness of Christ and his claim to be the only way to salvation. In dialoguing with non-Christians to help them discover and appropriate truth, church planters need to examine their approach carefully. For non-Christians the usual form of gospel communication may be totally unfamiliar, like learning a foreign language. Also, postmodern people may require a different approach because of their method of making personal decisions.

Tim Keller has extensively studied ways to address postmodern non-Christians in both one-on-one and worship contexts. He believes the best context for worship is a mix of Christians and non-Christians together. In a mixed group, when the preacher speaks somewhat more to non-Christians, the Christians present learn how to share the faith; on the other hand, when the preacher speaks more to Christians, the non-Christians present come to see how Christianity “works.” Keller adds that more deeply secular postmodern non-Christians tend to decide about the faith on pragmatic grounds; they do not examine it in a detached, intellectual way.

Also, they are more likely to make their commitment through a long process of mini-decisions. They will want to try Christianity on to see how it fits their problems and how it fleshes out in real life. The process may fol- low a pattern such as this:

+ Awareness: “This is it.” Clearing the ground of stereotypes. Distinguishing the gospel from legalism or liberalism, and distinguishing core truths from peripheral issues.

+ Relevance: “I need it.” Showing the slavery of both religion and irreligion. Showing the transforming power of the gospel and how the gospel “works.”

+ Credibility: “I need it because it’s true. ”Reversing the modern view, which says, “It is true if I need it.” Seekers must see the gospel’s reasonableness, or there will be no endurance to their faith decision.

+ Trial: “I see what it would be like.” In group life and in service ministries, they try Christianity on, often talking like Christians or defending the faith.

+ Commitment: “I take it.” Sometimes this is the point of real conversion. This may have already happened in the past; or it may happen later on.

+ Reinforcement: “Now I get it.” Typically, a period of follow-up is the time when the penny drops and the gospel becomes clear. We will now examine some of the more specific challenges using New York City as a case study.

SOCIAL CLIMATE: ETHNIC DIVERSITY REQUIRES “PEOPLE SENSITIVITY”

Primarily through attracting new immigrants, New York City is the only U.S. northern industrial city with a sustained net population gain in the last one hundred years. While the population grows, the city also experiences a large turnover in population, which creates change in the social and demographic makeup. Tony Carnes, president of the Values Research Institute, articulates the following concerns.

+ Migration is a catastrophe for newcomers to the city. It disrupts marriages, children, and families. Newcomers will either accept new customs and habits or reject, synthesize, fall apart, or go another path. During the first two years as they are seeking assimilation, immigrants tend to be open to the gospel.

+ Newcomers struggle with income and education: 35% have incomes below $22,000; 52% are ages eighteen to thirty-four, but only 17% have college degrees; 46% are single, and 33% are single mothers; and 39% attend religious services regularly.

+ New immigrants include 30% Caribbean, 26% Asian, 25% European, 5% African, 4% South American, 2% Central American, and 1% Canadian individuals. These new immigrants represent dozens of languages and cultures.

+ The Hispanic population is 27% of New York City’s residents, which is larger than the African American population. Most are from Puerto Rico (38%) and the Dominican Republic (27%).

To plant churches in this city, we must develop great sensitivity to the ethnic groupings mentioned above, as well as to their social networks. Communities in the city are a patchwork quilt of neighborhoods, representing a large mix of people from various nations. Odd as it may seem, since identities are unknown there is a great deal of intimacy among strangers; however, they relate in distinctive ways, depending on their education, occupation, wealth (or lack thereof), and language preference. For example, Hispanics and Asians possess the commonality of entering into a white world; yet individuals’ social standing will make them comfortable in some groupings and uncomfortable in others.

To design the model of church that will reach these communities effectively, church planters therefore need to do extensive demographic and ethnographic studies. Assumptions should be avoided and conclusions must not be drawn too quickly, especially not until people profiles of particular neighborhoods are completed.

CULTURAL LEARNING: A PREREQUISITE FOR CHURCH PLANTERS

Missionaries entering a new culture abroad often realize the necessity of learning the language, customs, and lifestyles of the people with whom they will live. Because New York City is in North America and the major language is English, church planters from within the United States sometimes fail to realize the importance of “putting on the missionary hat” and learning new ways of thinking, acting, and relating. This is a significant mistake.

Paul Hiebert describes the “bicultural bridge” as the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries (church planters) and the people they serve. The biculture is a new culture that arises in the interaction of people from two different cultural backgrounds. Church planters coming to New York City from other parts of North America bring with them their own cultural maps: they have ideas of how to dress, what to eat, who should raise their children, how to worship properly, and many other things. No matter how hard they try, they cannot “go native” in New York City. They cannot fully erase their child- hood culture, even if they attempt it, and they are also influenced by the new culture they enter—the culture of New York City.

New Yorkers who interact with the church planter also become part of the biculture, adding their own ideas about child rearing, family values, worship preferences, etc. In relationship with the church planter, however, they are also exposed to new ideas and beliefs. To relate to one another productively, the church planter and the New Yorkers must create new patterns of working, playing, and worshiping—a new culture, or biculture.

Consequently, the first months of the church planter’s life on the new project must be spent in learning the ways of those he seeks to serve and in developing a bicultural community. Questions he may seek to answer will range from personal habits to ministry values:

+ What type of apartment should I live in?
+ What types of clothes should be worn?
+ Where should the children go to school?
+ What values should the new church demonstrate?
+ What should be the philosophy of ministry for the new church?

This process of learning culture—and the incarnation that results—is called “identification” in cross-cultural lingo, but the process does not deny who we are originally. It is a bipersonal state we choose in order to be- come one with the people we seek to serve. The months of learning the local culture will be rewarding and will yield benefits for the future church-planting project. Don’t skip this process or attempt to downgrade it; it is not minority people engagement but urban culture engagement.

FINANCIAL COST OF MINISTRY IN THE CITY

Based on an understanding of Christ’s incarnation (he “made his dwelling among us,” John 1:14), church planters should live in their ministry’s target area. In all global cities, the cost of living is high. For example, a small (800 square feet) two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan rents for more than $3,000 a month. Purchasing facilities for worship is unthinkable; renting adequate places for worship (schools, churches, synagogues, theaters, community centers, etc.) is always challenging and costly. This means a church planter and his family may need upwards of $100,000 to $250,000 a year for living and ministry expenses.

Churches and individuals helping to support a church plant in the city need to understand and accept these budgetary challenges. As they begin the support-raising process, church planters should develop a well-prepared Church Plant Proposal document that includes the following components.

+ an executive summary of the vision
+ a brief demographic profile of the target area
+ a biographical sketch of the church planter
+ a summary of the proposed budget

Donors will respond to a compelling vision of a ministry that meets the needs of people, versus a bland financial presentation.

LIMITATIONS OF WORSHIP VENUES IN THE CITY

The church planter’s action plan may envision a start-up congregation of seventy-five to one hundred, with ample room for growth. Finding a corresponding meeting place in the city at the right hour on Sunday be- comes a difficult chore. Often goals and projections will require modifications because of venue constraints. Flexibility and creativity on the part of the church planter (CP) to enhance a poorly designed meeting place is often required. For example, renting a theater on Sunday morning may be feasible but also tricky, as a dark and windowless site will require additional lighting. Clever use of the large screen, however, could result in a well-lit space.

USE OF INAPPROPRIATE MODELS

Church planters are often impressed by what they have seen other planters do in a new situation. The self-talk goes like this: “That’s impressive; it would not be too difficult to duplicate; I can do that.” The rush to borrow methodologies and neglect the learning stage may result in tragic contextual misjudgments.

To develop the appropriate model, the CP should move to the target area as soon as possible, do a walking tour of the area, begin networking in the community, gain information in the context of relationships, and then summarize and analyze the data providing implications for the right type of model.

PREMATURE TIMING OF PUBLIC LAUNCH

By “going public,” I mean moving from the informal meetings of small-group Bible studies to the full-blown meetings of a Sunday worship service. The timing of the public launch is critical for any church plant, but for church planters in the city, the importance of right timing is heightened by greater financial constraints and sponsor expectations. This pressure can be intense, as missteps at this critical juncture will have serious con- sequences for the church plant.

In addition to gathering enough people to create momentum, the CP must prepare for the many activities and logistics necessary for setting up a site and welcoming people. This takes time and careful planning, with the added pressure of having only one shot to get it right. People visiting for the first time will make up their minds quickly whether or not to return. Thus, the CP needs to make sure he is ready both physically and spiritually for the public launch.

During this time, the CP will benefit greatly from having a coach. Together the CP and the coach must develop a well-crafted plan for the first twelve months of the project, identifying how people will be reached, how often they will meet as a emerging core group, and so on. Before the public launch takes place, the CP must have a solid core of leaders to assimilate, new believers to disciple, and several small groups operating with their own leaders.

Whatever is planned for the life of the church must be in place from the beginning. With the first fifty or seventy-five people, attention is focused on gathering as a congregation, developing an infrastructure, and building a sense of momentum. With emerging momentum and a clear vision for the project, the CP is ready to strike with the public launch!

THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPING LEADERS IN HIGH TURNOVER URBAN CONTEXTS

Church planters in the urban context face the added challenge of working in a highly fluid environment. The rapid turnover and high attrition rate of city dwellers poses a major challenge to the CP seeking to develop committed leaders in his nascent congregation. Often the core leaders assume the burden of the many tasks required in a new church, and some burn out. New people are not helping out yet, but the work needs to be delegated to others. The following are some ways to involve others.

+ Take more risks. When you need something done, give it to somebody new instead of relying on old standbys.

+ Learn to recruit. Start compiling a list of workers—bookkeepers, greeters, ushers, social organizers, a setup crew. Among those who take on these types of jobs you will find those who want to go deeper in their responsibilities.

+ Establish apprenticeships. In all areas of leadership training, instill in followers the concept of every leader having an apprentice. In this way, leadership is multiplying and replacements are being trained.

+Develop a leadership training plan for the long term.

What are some of the unexpected challenges that you’ve faced planting a church in a city?
How have you prepared for the unexpected in church planting?

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Gospel and Life conferences of 2004 and 2005 and is posted here from Redeemer City to City with permission. The image used was taken by Ecstaticist.

Ministry Update and Prayer Requests

Church Planting, cities, Philadelphia, Rambling Thoughts, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry

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Yesterday I drove to York, PA, about a 2 hour drive west of Philadelphia. Through the years Pastor Dan White and the church family have supported the ministry of church planting in Philadelphia through their prayers and finances. It was a nice time of reacquainting with the church. When I was with North American Missions I consulted with the church, helping them to plant a new church in their area. It was enjoyable to reconnect with several of the men and women who served on the church-planting steering committee; it was wonderful to hear of their continued interest and concern for our church-planting efforts, now in Philly. Will you join me in prayer for the York Grace Brethren Church?

I drove home in time to attend church at Wissinoming at 6:00 PM. I was hoping to find Kareem out on the street and to invite him into the service. I had met Kareem, a young African-American man, last Sunday night after church sitting on the steps of the Laundromat next to the church. We had a nice conversation. I invited him to come to church next week. I knew it was a long shot, especially because it was raining and cold. I didn’t find him, but I will continue looking for him again. Will you pray for Kareem?

Last Friday evening I had a chance to speak with and pray for a nurse assistant. He is separated from his girlfriend and three-year old daughter. He was very open to talk to me, especially after he found out that I am a pastor. He had several questions about his relationship with his girlfriend and his concern for his daughter. I prayed with him and told him that I’d be back to the hospital this week, seeing a patient, and will look for him so that we can talk further. He lives in North Philly. Will you pray for him? His name is Thomas.

This coming Sunday, March 9, we will be presenting a ministry update at Lehigh Valley Grace Brethren Church in Bethlehem, PA, about an hour north of Philadelphia. Pastor Larry Humberd and the church family have been another prayer and financial supporter of MetroGrace for many years. The church added Anecia and me to their 2014 missionary budget for which we are so thankful! Will you pray for us as we present the ministry in Bethlehem this coming Sunday, March 9? Will you also pray for Lehigh Valley Grace Brethren Church? Thank you!

Both Pastor Dan and Pastor Larry have been dear friends of mine for many years. It is so nice to reconnect and visit with longtime friends, isn’t it? It is equally nice to meet new people, especially those who need the Lord. I have enjoyed meeting several of our neighbors and people that God brings across my path through His sovereign design. I have distributed several dozen Gospel tracts through casual contact, and have been able to impress upon folks that God loves them. I didn’t find Kareem, but I did meet a lady on the same Laundromat steps last night after church, sitting there in the rain. Her name is Marie. She said that she believes in Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, but that she does not attend church right now. She is about my age and seemed lonely. Will you pray for Marie? I welcomed her to attend our church on Sunday morning or evening. I’d like to introduce her to Anecia.

Two weeks ago I met with two staff leaders with CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), a university outreach ministry. They are quite interested in further dialogue about a partnership with us on the many campuses in this great city! On another note, on March 27 I will be meeting with students at Lancaster Bible College. Will you please pray about a potential relationship with CCO, and for my visit at Lancaster Bible College?

Well, as you can see, there is a lot to do – so many people who need the Lord and many opportunities that God is bringing across our paths. Thank you for your prayer support. As you are able, thank you also for your financial support. We are here only because of God and His provision through your financial support for our ministry and this city. Thank you so much!

Blessings,

Kurt and Anecia Miller

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Needed: A Massive Movement of Everyday People

Church Planting, cities, Equipping, least reached, Philadelphia, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry

stock-footage-new-york-circa-june-crowd-of-people-commuters-walking-crossing-street-at-a-busy We believe one the best ways we can advance God’s purposes among the nations is to think beyond ourselves and serve the church-planting movement in Philadelphia through partnerships. The task is too big for any one person or organization to complete. Partnerships are key to seeing breakthroughs in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and other urban centers.

MetroGrace 1) Gathers, 2) Trains and 3) Sends. Our goal through these efforts is to send urban church-planting teams to start new churches. Yet, we recognize that the role of sending is continually changing, and must continue to change in order to honor and serve what God is doing through churches and other sending movements in our city.

As MetroGrace looks to the future, we recognize that the Great Commission will only be accomplished through a massive movement of everyday people from all walks of life and all nations—all with an extraordinary passion for God’s glory to be known among all peoples. Since we cannot do it alone, we need partners to join us in this endeavor:

  • College graduates who want to work and live in urban places that are walkable, bike-able, connected by transit, and hyper-caffeinated.
  • Second-career people who sense God’s call on their lives to serve Him in new and significant ways in an urban context;
  • Retired people who want to use their gifts and talents to train, equip and mobilize a younger generation; and, who want to evangelize people who need the Lord.
  • Churches who have a desire to mobilize their people to help the Gospel to be proclaimed in Philadelphia.
  • Returning missionaries who could relocate in Philadelphia to reach the tribe, tongue, people and nation God has called them to reach.
  • Extraordinary financial partnerships for extraordinary opportunities.
  • And more…

Making disciples of Jesus is the most important job in the world. It not only transforms the lives of people here in this world but also for all eternity in the next. Few jobs are as difficult as this one—we have a powerful adversary who is working against our every effort. If this is true, should we not employ everyone we can to the most densely populated places on earth (major cities) to spread the gospel, to gather new believers into new churches, to prepare every believer in Jesus to accomplish the mission of making disciples who are able to disciple others? Does not a mission of such critical importance demand our very best combined efforts? Literally, the eternal destiny of millions of people hangs in the balance.

Jesus’ strategy for revealing Himself to the whole world was through successive generations of disciplers. Rather than being consumed with meeting every need He could in His own generation, He foresaw that the greatest fruit for all generations would come from a movement of everyday people from all walks of life and all nations—all with an extraordinary passion to work together for God’s glory to be known among all peoples.

We are always looking for new partnerships. Would you consider partnering with us? You may be asking how. Well, ask the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, that question. Read His Word. Pray. Expect an answer. You might also want to contact me for some ideas. I can be reached via email at kurt@metrograce.org.

JOIN THE TEAM! #metrograce www.metrograce.org

Iraqi Refugees in Northeast Philadelphia

Church Planting, cities, least reached, Notable Blogs, Philadelphia, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry
Iraqi refugees find support from fellows and neighbors in Northeast Philadelphia (via NewsWorks)

Hundreds of Iraqis are building new lives in Northeast Philadelphia. They’re simultaneously trying for a fresh start while holding on to their homeland, and even finding some unusual allies. One of those families lives on a quiet street in Northeast…

From Liberia to Philadelphia

Church Planting, least reached, Philadelphia, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry, Urban Poverty

Liberia

From Liberia to Philadelphia – A True Story

From Gujarati Hindus, to Lao Buddhists, to Kurds, Sudanese and Somali’s—God is bringing the nations to Philadelphia and MetroGrace is responding. We understand the biblical privilege given to us to respond to the growing population of diaspora peoples coming here. Globalization, urbanization and migration have changed the complexity of reaching American cities for Christ, making cross-cultural mission not just a foreign mission practice any longer. We are in this together!

The difference between recent immigrants and previous generations is that many are from “unreached” places of our world. According to Mission Frontiers, “the Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net) lists over 160 ethno-linguistic people groups considered ‘Least-Reached’ who now call the U.S. home. This includes 568,000 Iraqis, 111,000 Palestinians, 135,000 Bengali, 175,000 Thai (Central) and 331,000 Persians among the largest groups. Many of these people are from nations ‘closed’ to the gospel, such as Iran, Pakistan, and other countries of the ‘10/40 Window.’”

MetroGrace is asking: Who are these peoples? Where are they located? What role does MetroGrace, our Northern Atlantic Fellowship (NAF) and our Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC) play? And, how do we reach them for Christ in Philadelphia?

MetroGrace’s purpose is “Developing Urban Churches.” Our vision is to plant gospel-centered, community-based churches. What is so unique about Philadelphia is that recent immigrants are scattering throughout the city. They are integrating into all neighborhoods. Philadelphia is recognized as a “Gateway City”. Many are first generation immigrants. A surprising number of them have been here for several years and speak English. What does this mean for us?

1)      Planting gospel-centered churches means proclaiming the good news and practicing good deeds among the nations; and,

2)      These churches will be community-based, reaching out to all kinds of people who are living together, yet with their own respective needs.

There are some pockets of cultural concentration in Philadelphia, but that is not what characterizes this city. We are increasingly a shifting, cosmopolitan mosaic. 

The churches we have already planted reflect this cosmopolitan nature – Daniel came to trust Jesus for salvation through the ministry of missionaries in River Cess, Liberia. Years of civil war had torn apart his country. When he was able, Daniel moved to Philadelphia to study international leadership. He connected with Crossroads Community Church, a MetroGrace church plant in the Holmesburg neighborhood, and began to serve.  After more than a year of separation from his wife, he was able to bring her to the United States. Daniel’s heart for his people helped Crossroads connect with Gbalesh Town Community School that we now support with prayers and finances. Think of it, a newly developing and small urban church in Philadelphia is able to help provide a Christian education for children in one of the poorest places in the world.

Reth’s parents were refugees from Cambodia during the ravages of the Khmer Rouge. Their escape eventually brought them to the city.  A church in West Philadelphia helped the new immigrants settle and Reth excelled in her new country. While attending college at LaSalle University she met a Christian man named James. She affirmed her faith and they connected with a MetroGrace church plant. They became a key couple, helping the fledgling church develop. After a while they were married and blessed with two children. James serves as an elder and Reth sings with the worship team. We continue to pray for Reth’s family as she shares the new life she’s found in her new land.

Missiologist and pastor, J.D. Payne points out that, “One of the greatest ironies in missions today is the fact that although we have a good understanding of the evangelical status of many of the world’s peoples in other nations, for the most part, we are ignorant regarding the evangelical status of the peoples of the world living in our backyards.” We simply don’t have good data at the city level to answer the questions regarding the diaspora. What we do have is often dated and the 2010 census did not ask the questions we need answered. For that reason MetroGrace will be training all new church-planting candidates and team members to adequately research their targeted neighborhood before even starting, so that they can discover and love all the people, including their diaspora neighbors, to Christ.

We believe that our newly developing strategic approach to planting churches in Philadelphia is critical. We need you to pray and to consider joining our team. We are always happy to share ways in which you can be involved.  It might start with a weekend “exposure trip” to the city. Or, maybe you could join a short-term mission team from your church. Possibly you would be interested in a 6-8 week summer internship; or, a 2-year church-planting internship. Feel free to contact me, Kurt Miller, at kurt@metrograce.org. We are waiting for you!

 

GENEROSITY: IT DOESN’T COST A PENNY TO PAY IT FORWARD

Church Planting, cities, Equipping, Notable Blogs, Other Authors, Philadelphia, Rambling Thoughts, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry

BY THE JOHN MAXWELL COMPANY.
DECEMBER 30, 2013

When we hear the words “giving” and “generosity” we typically think in terms of financial donations. Yet, as leaders we have far more to offer than money. For example, we can give people access to our personal network, or leverage our influence to help someone else gain an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.

In 1792, on a chilly December day in Salzburg, Austria, an unmarried embroiderer gave birth to her third child, a baby boy named Joseph Mohr. The child’s father had deserted the mother immediately upon learning about the pregnancy. The abandoned mother, already short on money, was fined a year’s worth of wages for having conceived a child out of wedlock.

With an absentee father and an impoverished mother, Joseph’s life prospects were dim. This was especially true in the late 18th century, when so-called “illegitimate children” were socially stigmatized. They were routinely denied apprenticeships and educational opportunities.

One place where Joseph felt accepted was at his local church, where he sang in the choir. The cathedral’s vicar, Johan Nepomuk Hiernle, took notice of the boy’s musical talent, and intervened on Joseph’s behalf so that he could receive an education. Joseph did well in school, and he excelled musically, learning to play the guitar, violin, and organ. Eventually, he decided to enroll in seminary.

Joseph’s plans were blocked, however, as his illegitimate birth prevented him from studying for the priesthood. Hiernle again came to his aid, successfully seeking an exemption so that the young man could attend seminary. After completing his studies, Joseph was ordained, and then appointed as priest of a small parish in Oberndorf.

His second year at the church, Joseph scrambled to pull together a concert for Christmas mass. He had written a poem and shared it with a friend whom he asked to compose a melody to go with it. Joseph’s friend obliged, and together they performed the song for the congregation on Christmas Eve. The tune, “Silent Night,” has gone on to become a holiday favorite, popular with churches and carolers almost 200 years later.

Thought to Ponder

If not for a kind-hearted vicar, who generously used his connections to aid a fatherless, underprivileged young boy, “Silent Night” would likely never have been written or sung. In fact, who knows what would have become of Joseph Mohr without the vicar’s support and guidance?

At some point, I’ll bet someone has generously intervened in your life in order to give you a better shot at success. As a way of honoring this person, take a brief moment to comment on the impact their generosity had on you. How might you be able to “pay forward” their generosity?

Facing the Brutal Facts of Church-Planting

Church Planting, cities, Equipping, Other Authors, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry, Urban Poverty

The following article was published in the July-August 2012 issue of Mission Frontiers Magazine. It was written by Neill Mims and is used with permission. http://www.missionfrontiers.org.

Many people misunderstand why some missionaries pursue Church-Planting Movements and models such as house churches. If we discuss some issues that are often forgotten, you may understand better why Church-Planting Movements are not just about the movements that God may provide, but are founded upon solid missiological principles when pursued wisely under God’s Holy Spirit.

If you have read the books Good to Great (Jim Collins, William Collins Publishing, 2001), or Breakthrough Churches (Thomas Rainer, Zondervan Publishing, 2005), they propose a similar framework to see progress in the mission of any organization. I find these principles also fit well as we seek to plant churches around the world.

The authors say that before we implement a meaningful plan, we often fail because we do not “Face the Brutal Facts” or the difficult realities about what we are trying to do. Only after considering what may hinder us from our goal are we best prepared to make and pursue the best action plans.

To introduce just a few of the brutal facts of church planting, I often ask the following questions to face the hard realities that are often neglected.

First, what do you think is the average attendance of churches in America?

I enjoy hearing many Asians respond, “500”, “800”, “2,000.” But actually as we consider “averages” and especially if we take out the largest super churches which make the average higher, that number is closer to about 75 persons. The Southern Baptist average has been about 80 for years. Are these numbers surprising? Why? If you consider the average attendance in a number of “mission” countries, the averages are much smaller. For example, in Cambodia, after about 22 years of active church planting, church and mission leaders acknowledge most churches in the country (the vast majority use a traditional model) have average attendance somewhere between 15-20. Only a handful of churches have grown larger than 50 in attendance.

A second question: What size do most pastors want their church to be?

Usually of course we hear numbers of at least 150—200. Many dream of being a “Willow Creek” or “Saddleback” with thousands of members. But do the numbers above mean most pastors are “failures?” Most of us will quickly shake our head or say “NO!”

Third: How many people in a church does it take to support one full-time pastor/minister?

The first answer I almost always get for this question is, “Ten”! Of course they are thinking about ten tithing members. But they forget that not all members of a church have incomes or choose to tithe. In most countries/cultures the average it takes is about 70-80. Is this surprising? Why?

A final question for this exercise

Based on average church size being about 75 in the USA, but the number of members needed to support a full-time pastor being about 70-80, how many American pastors do you think are “bi-vocational or “lay-leaders?” Though it is difficult to get this data for many denominations, Southern Baptists have about 50% lay leaders. That doesn’t mean that the church does not help those pastors with some expenses or salary, but that these pastors have another full-time or significant part-time job to meet most of their expenses. And remember that the Southern Baptist average church size is about 80, not the usual 75. This brutal fact really amazes most Asian Christian leaders because they just assume that all American churches are “big” and that all have full-time, well-supported pastors, and they wonder why they struggle so much to make a living.
So… if we take just a few of the above brutal facts into consideration we might draw quite a few working conclusions about our model and methods for church planting. Here are some that come to mind as we train in several countries:

    The church at large will always need to have a large number of bi-vocational leaders leading local churches.

    If you pursue traditional models of church planting it will be very expensive and very difficult to grow even a few churches larger than 50-80 persons.

    Many difficulties and cultural issues prevent most churches from growing larger than “average” size. Among those are a leader’s spiritual gifts, personality, work ethic and interpersonal skills.

    Average people do seem to be able to start and lead churches that average 10-40 people. This seems to be the average size God grows most churches to.

    Let’s face it—the brutal facts of God’s kingdom are that the gifting of many church leaders and the situations they face make it difficult to grow a church beyond 70 people.

    If we face the “brutal fact” that most churches in the world are small, and that this is how God usually works in His churches, then we know that the normal pattern is to have small churches—thousands and thousands of them!

So… why pursue Church-Planting Movements?

We are starting normal-sized churches, with God’s normal people. Almost every church starts small… so why should leadership or missionaries bear the burden to raise large amounts of money for each church plant to try to become large or support a full-time pastor when many will not? If the church is to grow large and have a facility with full-time staff, that should largely be a factor of whether the church members can do that from within in a self-supporting and self-sustaining manner.

Which will bring God more glory: To work to start many small churches, or to start and grow only one or two large churches? It is churches planting churches by average believers that seems truly amazing! When that happens rapidly in a number of venues, we call that a Church-Planting Movement.

What would happen if every church started a church or two every year? Pray about this for your church! In many places around the world, this is the norm.

Our Strength is Our Weakness

Church-Planting Movements are invariably lay-led movements. What we see in the West is the predominance of professional-led churches. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting leaders to be as well-equipped and competent as possible, the brutal fact is that in the West there is a growing chasm between the leadership and the laity. In many respects, our strength has become our weakness.

A new church start on the booming west-end of a city in America offers a case in point. The association of Baptists located a strategic property in the midst of an under-churched yet bustling suburb filled with newly-arrived, unchurched prospective church members. To get the new church up and going, the association invited staff members from a local Christian mission organization to voluntarily participate in the new church. Almost immediately the church was up and running with seminary trained, highly competent musicians, Bible teachers, worship leaders, outreach coordinators, and children’s workers.

Two years later, the church closed its doors. What happened? Visitors to the church found it easy to sit and enjoy the many services this church offered, but found little need for their own services. Prospective new members felt welcomed, but not needed. There was no position in the church that they could fill better than one of the mission agency staff members who typically had seminary training, overseas ministry experience and a high motivation to minister.
In a similar way, the professionalization of the ministry has produced high quality teaching, worship and ministry, but has often left the laity behind as passive listeners. In Church-Planting Movements, the laity is mobilized and unleashed to be the avant garde, the cutting edge, of kingdom advance.

The same was true of our own evangelical heritage in America. Reading Rodney Stark and Roger Finke’s The Churching of America, it is clear that the more educated and professional denominations at the time of America’s early decades ridiculed the fervor and folly of those populist denominations with their brush arbor revivals and circuit-riding preachers. While the professionals at Harvard, Yale and Princeton complained, the lay-led populists won the West.
The same is true today. The future will be won, not by the most educated and erudite, but by the masses of believers who are summoned and equipped to take up the mantle of kingdom advance. This is the key to world evangelization. If we are to see Church-Planting Movements again in America, it will only happen when we learn how to equip the masses of believers, who make up the body of Christ, to be disciple-makers and church planters. Most of this untapped group are currently at rest, watching the paid professionals carry out the work of ministry.

Centrifugal vs Centripetal

You know how centrifugal force works, right? The very term has its origins in two Latin words meaning “center” and “flee.” Centrifugal forces push objects outward away from the center. Centrifugal forces are at work in Church-Planting Movements (CPMs). Rather than joining a central, mother church, CPM churches spin out to form new bodies of believers within the communities of lost persons that they eventually reach for Christ.

Contrast this with centripetal forces, which characterize our Western church model. In the West, there is little incentive for a pastor to spin off his church members into multiplying new (yet small) congregations of believers. The very life and health of the Western church model depends upon attracting and keeping as many new, or old, believers as possible. The salaries of the pastoral staff and the financing of programs and buildings depend upon it. This centripetal or attractional model is not without merit and has a definite role, but it is usually antithetical to the CPM paradigm.

Ecclesionomics or Follow the Money

A colleague who had spent many years successfully launching Church-Planting Movements in South Asia recently found himself back for an extended stay in America. He immediately began doing what he knew best: he used the Training for Trainers (T4T) model to launch multiplying churches. Very quickly, though, he ran into the kind of obstacles that abort many CPM efforts in the West:

1) We have enough churches already.

Living in the Bible belt, my friend found churches everywhere. They were two-thirds empty, but they were there. Each one had a pastor who was struggling to keep his flock in the fold and his head above water. When my friend cast a vision for multiplying new churches, their response was unanimous: We have enough churches already.

Lesson one: Many people believe we just need to grow existing churches and that new churches may be in competition with existing ones. To suggest new church plants in America, you’re swimming against a powerful current of those who want to keep growing their existing churches.

Undaunted, my friend vowed to the pastors not to plant new churches, but rather to start new discipleship groups. Within a couple of years, he had more than 70 discipleship groups meeting throughout his area.

2) How do I feed my family?

About a year later, my friend telephoned me:
“How’s the work going?” I asked.
“Great!” he said, “but there’s just one problem.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I’ve got to figure out how to feed my family.”
Though the movement was doing well, it offered no funding option for a full-time professional CPM catalyst (i.e. missionary). It also explained why there are so few CPM catalysts at work in America.
Church-Planting Movements are a noble ideal, but there’s no money in them. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. Pastors don’t become pastors to become wealthy. But neither do they become pastors with expectations that their family will starve. The traditional Western church paradigm has many strengths and weaknesses, but as an economic model, it generally works. The more parishioners one attracts, the more fiscally viable the institution becomes.

Lesson two: Pursuing a model that needs money to exist often leaves out potential members who have little or no money. Such possible members could include immigrants, inner city unemployed or underemployed, college students and youth. If our church model depends upon funding from our members then it will always be at a loss in reaching the poor, the student, and the disenfranchised.

The Church-Planting Movement model has flourished among the poor and disenfranchised because it has overcome the money obstacle. For this to happen, though, three things had to occur:

1) Removal of overhead. CPMs become affordable when removing the funding demands of full-time professional church leadership and buildings. While all of these things are good, they create a centripetal force within a church that invariably works against multiplying new communities of faith.

2) Parsing the task. Just as you would parse a sentence to find its nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, so too you can parse the task of being a church to find its underlying responsibilities of worship, fellowship, ministry, discipleship and mission. Roughly these tasks can all be rolled up into the job description of a full-time pastor (as in the traditional church model) or they can be rolled out into the hands of the laity (as in the CPM model). As the work of the church gets disseminated throughout the church, so too does the sense of ownership of the church’s life and mission become widely held throughout the church body.

3) Providing for a few full-time catalysts. There is a need for full-time workers, but in the CPM paradigm, these full-timers are not the house church or small church pastors and ministry-staff members. Rather, they are the overseers and catalysts, those who oversee multiple house churches—teaching, training, and developing leaders while catalyzing new streams of house church multiplication.

What will it take to see CPMs in America?

It will take a return to the pioneering spirit of our predecessors who saw an entire continent in need of Christ rather than a single church or denomination in need of expansion. Several denominations in the USA grew because “circuit riders” (sometimes lay leaders themselves), would plant several churches at a time, raise up young men to be their pastors, and continue to plant. A current change begins with a recognition of the brutal facts of our current condition that impedes our progress forward.

The Power of Example

Church Planting, Philadelphia, Rambling Thoughts

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In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of the time he wanted to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light the streets at night as a protection against crime and as a convenience for evening activities. Failing to convince them by his words, he decided to show his neighbors how compelling a single light could be. He bought an attractive lantern, polished the glass, and placed it on a long bracket that extended from the front of his house. Each evening as darkness descended, he lit the wick. His neighbors soon noticed the warm glow in front of his house. Passersby found that the light helped them to avoid tripping over protruding stones in the roadway. Soon others placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually the city recognized the need for having well-lighted streets.

That is the power of example. Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Example is always more effective than teaching.” Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Children become like parents; students become like teachers—all because of the power of example. Coupled with the Word of God, there may be no greater power on earth to change the behavior of others.

The Apostle Paul undoubtedly knew about this power when he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1, 2 ESV).

Followers of Jesus are to be imitators of God, to walk in love and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we live like this we become powerful examples of Christianity. But this is no ordinary example; no ‘any kind of example.’ No! When Jesus’ followers become light in the darkness, sins are exposed by the shining light and an amazing thing happens: darkness can no longer hide its nature and acts in secret. All is exposed to light. Light that makes everything visible brings an even more radical element.

This is what Paul means in verses 13-14: “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:1, 2, 13, 14 ESV). Everything that is revealed is (or becomes) light. Light turns darkness into light. This is the church’s mission.

So, I am thinking now about how this applies to church planters, that rare breed of servants who I serve and really love: “How do you go about effectively planting a church?” You deliberately live as imitators of God in your neighborhood. You become known in your neighborhood as men and women of God, thus becoming light in the darkness. As Benjamin Franklin did in Philadelphia, show your neighbors how compelling a single light can be. Your neighbors will soon notice the warm glow coming from your home. In addition to simple example, you will have the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit whose power will turn the darkness of your neighborhood into light! Church planting is far more about this than it is about forms and functions. So, in your neighborhood, turn your inner light on unashamedly, and see what Jesus does!