If you talk to anyone that resembles an influencer in the current movement to reform the way Christians do church life, the #1 question they get is usually…
I get it. But finding or starting a church that operates like what the New Testament envisions seems highly unlikely. I’ve heard they’re out there, but I don’t know of any in my area. How do you get started?
Let’s be honest. It’s tough sledding in the US for many reasons. Other cultures are more open to it right now. But thankfully, the concept of being the church the way God designed it to be is spreading, and it’s much easier to find the creatures that want to be a part of such an endeavor than it was 20 years ago when I picked up the first book that rocked my world in this area.
From that day to the day I actually found and was used by the Lord to organize others into a living, breathing Kingdom community was about 16 years. Those years were frustrating, lonely and sometimes hopeless.
But then everything changed and I started a church. Here’s what happened…
Before Starting A Church
Throughout the 16 years, I attended little bible studies and home gatherings, but they weren’t what I was looking for. They weren’t healthy church life. With that said, THEY DID CONTAIN PEOPLE that were looking for it. Over the years, I had many conversations with various people and landed on the same page with many of them. Looking back, the obstacle to us starting sooner was simply the fact that no one initiated or organized starting a church. We talked about it a lot. But, I guess everyone just assumed it would have to be someone else that got things rolling. I know I did – since I’m not an overly social type.
But then one day I was having a conversation with a couple of people about starting a church and the motivation struck. It was more them than me. Since I already believed that it would never be me that started it, I told them that I would create an email invitation with a link to a document with an FAQ that would address most of the common questions people would have when we would ask them if they wanted to join a new church.
They could then use the invitation and FAQ document to send to their contacts that would be interested. If THEY could recruit enough people, I’d be in.
The reason I felt the FAQ document was important is that you have no idea of the concepts people have when you use the common phrases (organic church, house church, simple church, whatever) that are used nowadays to describe what we wanted to start. I certainly didn’t want people to come without knowing what they were coming to. That’s just setting yourself up for failure.
So I created this email invitation…
I want to extend an invitation to you to be a part of starting a church in our area. While there is no such thing as a perfect church or a church made up of perfect people; there are timeless patterns, principles, and practices established by God from the beginning that are mostly absent from our experience of church today.
But the Lord is changing that as our culture shifts and His people are becoming more and more obedient to return to them. We would like to be part of that group, and would like you to be too!
Since this will be a paradigm shift for many, I’ve created a document that attempts to answer many of the major questions one might have when pondering involvement. The link to this document is free to be shared with anyone in your personal network. If you feel the leading, please share it so that the invitation reaches as many people as possible.
Please read it over. Its purpose is to provide short answers to most of the questions that might come up. If you have any further questions, feel free to reply to this email with them (do not “reply all”) or give me a call at the number below.
If the Lord bears witness with your spirit that you would like to be a part of this, please confirm through reply to this email (again, do not “reply all”). As the document mentions, once we have 8 committed adults (and their children), we’ll get started.
If this isn’t something you feel called to be a part of, no worries. Please don’t feel like you have to respond to this email to pass on the opportunity. If you feel that you may desire to be involved in the future, but the timing is not currently right for you, the door will remain open. Thanks!
Just for kicks, I sent this invitation out to my email contacts without prejudging them. Remember, I already knew I wouldn’t be able to recruit enough people myself to start a church. I was relying on others. The only criteria I used in deciding who to send it to was that I knew they were Christians. I didn’t worry about what they thought about church concepts. I knew the more I prejudged, the less the word would get out and the less my chances would be of attracting enough people. I knew that even if someone wasn’t interested, plenty of people are willing to make a connection with someone they know is.
Within a couple days, I personally got replies for 12 adults with 14 children! I was floored.
People I hadn’t talked to in years came out of the woodwork and expressed they were looking for something new, or they hadn’t been to church in a while. One couple even said “this is our final attempt to be a part of a church.”
It’s now been four years since I sent the invite. Sure, some people will come and go for various reasons. But, we’ve now got about 50 people in 2 churches that operate by God’s design in our city. We’re currently working with an embryo of a third church in a major metropolitan city an hour north of us as I write this.
In summary, here are 5 of my biggest takeaways from my experience with starting a church so far…
- Organize it. I know we all want to be “organic” because that’s the shiny new cool overreaction. But, there’s a difference between being “organic” and operating with organic order. The church is designed to operate by organic order. Learn the difference. If you just wait for things to organize themselves, it’s probably not gonna happen.
- Don’t prejudge. I know I already mentioned this, but I want to reiterate that there are people around you that you know who are interested, and you don’t know it. Make your thoughts and desires about this area of your life known when you interact with people. I bet you’ll be surprised who’s willing to give it a shot.
- Clearly communicate the principles you will operate by up front. If you’re dealing with people who aren’t very knowledgeable in the area, read a book like Unchurching or Reimagining Church together to make sure you lay a foundation of the principles of doing church by God’s design. Then, have discussions about the books. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly who’s motivated to go all-in.
- Just start. I said in my invitation that I wouldn’t start until there were 8 adults. I think at the time I was just not wanting to invest in something that didn’t have a good chance of lasting. With less than that, one or two couples leave and you don’t really have anything anymore. Today, I’d say to just start with whoever you can find. People are much more likely to join if something is started than if the idea is still conceptual. After starting, one of our members was talking to someone about our new church and they happened to know another group less than a mile down the road that was doing the same thing. But, this would have never come up if we wouldn’t have just started.
- Tap into an established network. The people that will want to join you aren’t used to running most of their lives by Kingdom principles. You’re asking people to operate in a completely opposite way from how the rest of their lives have been run. Therefore, starting a church from scratch and succeeding long-term is improbable (while we know that with God all things are possible). But the one thing that improves your chances of surviving and thriving 100-fold is tapping into an already established network to draw upon. They’ve been there and done that. They’ve likely seen and had to deal with the problems and challenges you’ll soon face. They’re able to give you an outside unbiased perspective that just can’t be seen from the inside. They can come visit, answer questions, mediate issues, strengthen the church, etc. Don’t go it alone!
I could keep going, but I’ll leave it here. A lot more info can be found in the posts on this blog about what it takes to start and establish healthy church life.
If you have further questions or just want to chat about your situation, feel free to reach out.