Archives For Church Planting

In 2008 I planted a church (along with a team of people), in 2010 I closed that same church.  I often get asked about how a person processes something like that.  Really the best answer to that question is: “You do.”  It gets complicated with things like “calling” and gifting, God’s Will, God’s sovereignty.  And in church world we probably over complicate this.

Last night I was reading “Concerning the Our Father” by Simone Weil.  BTW you can only read so much of Simone Weil at a time, because it will wreck you.  Here is a quote that expresses where I am at in my best moments:

We have to desire that everything that has happened should have happened, and nothing else.  We have to do so, not because what has happened is good in our eyes, but because God has permitted it, and because the obedience of the course of events to God is in itself an absolute good.

Powerful!  The rest is worth reading.

 

So it has been nearly 20 days since my last post. I have been a little underwater these days with preparations. We are currently trying to do the impossible–get the best deals on audio/visual equipment, to create an excellent environment and do it fast. I believe that you can only do two of those things at any given time. It can be excellent and cheap–but that takes time. It can be excellent and fast–but that take money. So we are trying to do all three–and I think we are succeeding. Let you know on September 14th–the grand opening of our Kidstuf Production.

5 Priorities

July 28, 2008 — Leave a comment

While our core team was in Georgia for n*Rich, we had an opportunity to list the top five priorities of each or our positions.

We have a unique staff structure at River Park Community Church. We are trying to pry off the lid for growth by separating the talker from the leader. Most churches expect the Senior Pastor to be an excellent weekly communicator and an excellent leader of people. We have all experienced senior pastors that are good talkers and poor leaders. We have experienced senior pastors who are great leaders but can’t keep an audience awake for thirty minutes in a row.

I think not only is this gift mix rare, the reality is that even where both gifts exist in one person, one person simply doesn’t have the time to do both. Something gets cheated–usually it isn’t weekly communication. We are prying the lid off of the church in this area–more on this later.

We have five staff members: Lead Pastor, Lead Communicator, Executive Pastor (Admin/Groups), Service Programming Director and Kidstuf Director.

As a team we defined the five priorities of each position. Maybe I will spend some time fleshing out each of the priorities later. Here is the short list though:

Lead Pastor:
1. Vision Casting
2. Staff Development
3. Fundraising
4. Key Leader Recruitment/Development
5. Strategic Planning

Lead Communicator:
1. Series Planning, Sermon Prep. and Delivery
2. Managing alternate communication channels
3. Fundraising
4. Communicating Vision and Strategy
5. Married Life Live/Parent Matters

Executive Pastor:
1. Dashboard
2. Groups vision and leader training
3. Group tracking
4. Records and Legal documents
5. Cultivate a culture of giving

Service Programming Director:
1. Guest Services
2. Recruitment and management of SPD team
3. Oversee, design and maintain Worship Experience environment/context
4. Pre-production, creative planning and evaluation
5. Implementing vision of worship experience/big picture

Kidstuf Director:
1. KS Stage production
2. Recruitment and training of cast and crew
3. Oversee, design, maintain KS environment/context
4. Pre-production, Creative planning & evaluation
5. Graphic design

More on the details later . . . Our next step is to fill in these priorities. I plan to assign a one line “win” to each position. Then we create an organizational chart for a church of 750 and put our names in each of the slots.


Friday was our first official meeting since James and I returned from an internship at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. To celebrate we had a Southern potluck—does that make us Baptist? Maybe . . . Southern Baptist?

Our featured food was Marcona Almonds—guaranteed to keep your spleen lean. They are from the South of Spain . . . which is a sort of South.

If you didn’t make it, you missed some great food and lots of sweet tea. You also missed an update on what is happening at RPCC.

Some things we talked about:

The mission of River Park Community Church is to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by creating irresistible environments that encourage intimacy with God, community with insiders and influence with outsiders.

In a past blog I talked about 5 catalysts of faith—five things that God uses to grow us spiritually. They are practical teaching, providential relationships, private disciplines, pivotal circumstances and personal ministry. We believe that the best thing a church can do is create environments where those five catalysts can be best leveraged. One of those environments is community groups. A community group is a small group of people–8-12 people committed to meeting together on a regular basis for fellowship and Bible study. It is where I believe that all five catalyst converge. It is where people do life on life.

Important Dates: Our goal is to launch two irresistible environments in the fall: Kidstuf on September 14th and our Worship Experience on October 5th. We will be alternating Kidstuf and the worship experience until January 4th.

Our next launch meeting is Sunday August 3rd at 6:30pm at the DeLillo’s.

Four Things: I often get asked about membership at RPCC. Membership is participation. Specifically, to be a part of RPCC we want people to be involved in four things. (One day we will have some great branding for this, cute logos and maybe a jingle—but right now it will be known as four things.) We want every person at RPCC to be involved in community groups and investing in outsiders and inviting them to our environments. We want people to be percentage givers and involved in personal ministry at RPCC. Those are the four things.

Hope to see you on Sunday August 3rd at 6:30pm. We are currently attending the 9am worship service at Camarillo Community Church.

I have been trying to figure out how to justify the purchase of a new iphone 3g.

My palm treo is barely working–four keys on the keypad require a blow to the bottom of the phone to get them to work.
So I figured it out . . . People often ask me what I do during the week.
What does a paster do during the week?
Usually because it seems most of what we do happens on Sunday.
And if you are not preaching on Sunday . . . like me.  It is sometimes even harder to explain.
So . . . here is my plan.  If I get an iphone, I can twitter.
And since my life is so glamorous . . . you will all want to follow my twitter.
Ever wondered what a pastor does during the week?  How about a church planter?

On Sunday we went to Discovery Church. Mike Clear, one of the guys who is responsible for this crazy ride I am on, is the family pastor. I was really looking forward to visiting this Sunday because our ministry model is so similar. If you want to see what River Park CC is going to look like visit Discovery. Nice to visit Discoverykidz–standing room only.

At our launch team meetings we are taking our team through our core values. In a world that is information saturated we all have very thick filters. We don’t believe what we get in the mail. We don’t believe the ads in the local newspaper or on the billboards on the freeway. We don’t believe what we see on TV. About the only thing we believe is our experience and the experience of our closest friends. So we realize that that has a profound effect upon how we market River Park Community Church. (It also has a profound effect upon evangelism, which we will talk about in a moment.) We realize that “getting the word out” about RPCC will not rest upon fancy fliers, postcards, signs or newspaper ads. Those are great secondary tools. (They confirm the testimony of a friend.) Our primary tool is the recommendation of a friend. So we figure, in the early stages of RPCC we need to paint a picture in the minds of our team: this is what RPCC is.–so that our launch team can easily share it with their friends. That is why we are spending the next few meetings on our core values. As our first preview on June 29th approaches we will be transitioning to more tactical issues. But for now: we are talking about relational evangelism.

I grew up in “church world.” And in church world evangelism meant one thing. It meant 7 weeks training on Wednesday nights, ending in a trip to the mall or to the beach to talk with complete strangers about where they were going to go when they die. If evangelism meant anything, it meant one thing–fear. Growing up as I watched other people do evangelism, I thought . . . I will wait until I am more mature . . . a little more seasoned in the faith. Then, I will be able to have all of the answers. Then when I have all the answers I will have the courage to pass out those tracts and talk with complete strangers about Jesus Christ.

At River Park Community Church we believe that spiritual growth happens best in the context of close personal relationships. This is true for maturing believers and for people taking the first step in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The reason why this is true is because it is only within the context of close personal relationships that people have the sort of vulnerability-based trust needed to speak truth into a person’s life and be heard. We have all heard the statement: rules without relationship equals rebellion. This is also true about accountability, care and belonging. Outside of relationship, accountability is resisted–”Why should I trust that you have my best interests at heart?” Care is mistrusted: “Do you really think the Kirby salesman cares about your carpet?” Belonging is too new to be more than superficial. Belonging takes time–it is affinity with a group that is developed over time. It is hard to develop these things with a complete stranger in a fifteen minute conversation on their doorstep or in the mall or at the beach. That is why the form of evangelism that starts with the question, “Do you know where you are going to go when you die?”, is not the most effective.

We believe there is another way. What if we invested in the people we are already connected with? What if we built a relationship of trust with a person before we started to talk to them about one of the most important decisions a person can make? This is the way Philip did it in the New Testament.

In John 1:43-51. Jesus decides to go to Galilee. In Galilee he runs into Philip and says “Follow me.” Philip does. As a side note we find out that Philip is from the same town as Andrew and Peter–two other disciples. Hmm. Maybe they knew eachother–you know those small Galillean towns? Doesn’t everyone know everyone else’s business? So Philip invites his friend, Nathanael, to follow Jesus. Like many of our own friends, Nathanael is skeptical. He says, “Can anything good come from the trailer-trash of Nazareth?” So Philip says, “Just come see for yourself.” Nathanael does, probably because he trusts his friend enough to go see for himself. Nathanael ends up following Jesus.

I call this “come and see” evangelism. We might call it invest and invite. We simply build a relationship of trust with someone and then invite to “come and see.”

I happen to believe that most people in our community think church is for church people not for them. They know church people. Church people don’t swear, they don’t drink, their kids dress up in matching clothes on Sunday, they don’t go to raging parties, they pray in restaurants. They know they are not like that, they know church people are . . . they figure church must not be for them.

What if we were a church for that group of people? What if we could create environments for people who think church is for church people not for them? That is what relational evangelism is all about. It is about investing in people outside the church and inviting them to an environment designed for them. We are so committed to this idea that we are not creating periodic “one-off” special “invite” events. Instead, every Sunday is designed for insiders to invite outsiders. Every Sunday is designed for people who are saying to their friends, “come and see.”

Relational Evangelism: We believe that spiritual growth happens best in the context of close personal relationships.

Stats: 16 Adults (14 children)

Today we visited Reality Church in Carpinteria, CA. We went to the 8:30am service. Drove all over to find parking, because it was so jammed. We ended up parking 3 blocks away. I don’t know how many people the auditorium held, but it appeared there were over 500 people at the morning service.

Just an Observation: Over 500 people bypassed the beach (located only a block or so away from Reality) to attend church at 8:30am today. Not a bunch of old-folks–but twenty to thirty-somethings. This happened in a beach community, on a day when the surf was great–at 8:30 in the morning. This was one service–there were two more services. Everything else aside: that’s a win.

For those of you who missed our first launch team meeting, here is the inside scoop.

We want church to be irresistible. We want church to be the first option on Sunday morning. We want children to shake their parents out of bed on Sunday mornings to go to church. We want outsiders, people who don’t consider themselves religious, to attend church this Sunday and look forward to next Sunday. We think church should be irresistible.

When I read the New Testament, Jesus was irresistible. People loved Him or hated Him, but they couldn’t ignore Him. He couldn’t be marginalized. People didn’t pass Him by on the way to the beach or the mall. They either found Him to be irresistible or irritating–irritating enough to have Him killed. He wasn’t boring.

In Ephesians 1:22, 23 the church is called the body of Christ. As a gathering we represent Jesus Christ. It actually says we are the fullness of Him. We can talk about all of the many ways that we should be like Christ as an organization, but we don’t often talk about being “irresistible” like Christ. I am all for embodying Christ in all Biblical dimensions; somehow, though, we miss this one. When we miss this one we lose the attention of the community–but most of all the people we are trying to reach.

The mission of River Park Community Church is to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is not a certain amount of Bible classes or knowledge, but three life-long pursuits: Intimacy with God, Community with other believers and Influence with those outside the faith. We believe that when a person is pursuing these three things, wherever they are on the road, they are maturing–they are leading a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

They are Biblical pursuits, they are the right pursuits. These are relational pursuits. Because they are relational pursuits they are impossible to execute as a church. I can’t force anyone to be in community, much less force anyone to have a relationship with God. So, as a church, we realize the mission to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. We can’t make it happen. It is the unique office of the Holy Spirit to make such relational pursuits happen. It is the Holy Spirit that initiates our relationship with God. It is the Holy Spirit that brings unity to the followers of Christ. It is by the power the Holy Spirit that we speak boldly. And . . . it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that a person is saved. So . . . we admit that we cannot engineer relationships and we cannot engineer life-transformation.

However, when I look back on what God used to transform my life, I realize that life-transformation happened in an environment. Whether it was a small group Bible study or missions trip, life-transformation happened in an environment. Most often it was an environment that fostered close personal relationships with other believers. It was a life on life environment where there was care, accountability and a sense of belonging. As a church we have concluded life-transformation happens best in close personal relationships. We are in the business of creating environments where that can happen.

If we get down to what churches really are, they are a cluster of environments. Hopefully they are environments designed to partner with the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Hopefully they partner with the Holy Spirit rather than place obstacles in the way of those trying to get to know God (Acts 15).

We believe that leading people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. But . . . we can create environments that encourage and equip people to develop an intimate relationship with God, community with other believers, and influence with people outside the church. We believe this happens best in a small group environment where close personal relationships can be fostered and people can experience care, accountability and belonging–that is community. We call small groups our destination. We want everyone to arrive at this destination. Everything else we do as a church leads to this destination. Everything else is a step along the path toward small groups.

However, we know that people don’t just want to jump in and get naked. If the person across the counter at the dry cleaner started divulging all of his marital problems while you were trying to pick up your wool sweater, that would just be weird. We believe there has to be a place where people can enter as guests and become friends before they become family.

In fact we believe that most people think church is for church people not for them. So . . . they are most likely not interested in joining a small group in your church. So we create an environment that is designed specifically for guests: it’s called Sunday morning. It is designed to change people’s minds about church. The next step might be an environment designed to introduce people to small groups; a place designed to change a person’s mind about community. This is where a person moves from a guest to a friend. Once they have connected in a small group they are family. Our job is simple:

Our job is to create irresistible environments that lead to small groups.

Our task for the next five months:
1. to build a launch team of 75 members by September 14th
2. to build a resource pool of $250,000 by September 14th

We have 26 launch team members and have raised $153,000 (one time gifts, monthly commitments, staff tithes and GHC matching funds.)

Take-away: Invite people you know to become members of the River Park Community Church launch team.

Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:5

I had been telling people that the decision to plant a church had been a two year process. Some thought that we had been making plans to plant for two years. That was slightly problematic in that I was on staff as a children’s pastor at the time. Such was not the case. We didn’t actually make plans until mid-September of 2007.

When the calling to plant a church came in September of 2007 it was really the destination on a path that God had marked out for me long before. How long before? Who can tell? Ultimately–before the foundation of the world. At that moment in September I could trace that path back two years.

Like the Psalmist–”the things you planned for us no one can recount to you . . .” While looking back over two or three years, I see traces of this call. I see the gathering of the wave. I see the gathering swell of September. At other times I see large waves breaking. Like the favor with which we were received at Rio Vista Middle School by the principal. (cf. James’ blog). Or the person in Atlanta, Georgia who has been praying for a church plant like ours for the Ventura/Oxnard community for the last two years. John, the fantastic friend and world-class coach for River Park Community Church. The invitation to be part of the Growing Healthy Churches Network. That we are even talking strategic partnership with North Point Community Church. When I see these waves break I know that their beginning was not on the shore, but somewhere in the ocean far from land.

At these times, I begin to understand “who can recount?” While my call came in September of last year, and while I could trace it back two years . . . before that was God. God was aligning people along the path long before the call . . . for such a time as this. So . . . “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done.”

Church for church people

February 19, 2008 — 1 Comment

People believe that church is for church people not for them. This is an issue of relevance. Less than 10% of our local population finds an evangelical church relevant enough to make attending it regularly a priority. As Jesus walked the streets of ancient Palestine, he demonstrated the imminent relevance of God’s voice in the world. To the woman at the well, four times divorced and in her fifth romantic relationship, Jesus demonstrated the relevance of God’s voice. She walked away exclaiming to her neighbors, “Come see the man who told me everything about my life.” Men, women and children gathered to hear Jesus demonstrate the relevance of God’s voice in marriage, relationships, anger, murder, adultery, spiritual practices . . . One day thousands followed Him without food. Some thought He was the son of God, others thought he was a lunatic, some thought he was a threat to the social order of His time and had Him killed. I don’t think anyone thought He was irrelevant or boring.

 

While church, for many, is considered irrelevant, my relationship with my wife, my role as husband and parent, how I am raising my children, my job and my monthly mortgage are all relevant. That is why we believe we must do what Jesus did. We must demonstrate the relevance of God’s voice in addressing the everyday needs that demand the attention of the everyday person. We believe that as a church we are on the same mission as Jesus—to demonstrate the imminent relevance of God’s voice in peoples’ lives. If the church is the hope of the world we must be about the business of demonstrating the relevance of that hope to a hopeless world.

 

We believe that faith is more than two hours on Sunday. While Sunday may be pivotal, what happens in the home the rest of week determines the course of a person’s life. Our goal is to inspire, empower and equip the family. A growing relationship with Jesus Christ isn’t a one time decision, but a series of decisions about relationships. First of all, it is the everyday choice to grow more and more intimately connected to the Creator. It is about organizing the universe of our everyday decisions around our relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, it is intentionally nurturing everyday God-centered decisions which impact our relationships with everyone else—people inside the church and people outside the church. Relationships are relevant. God has spoken into relationships and His voice is relevant.

 

While people don’t seem to have a problem with God, they have a problem with church. That is why we believe it is imperative that the church marshal all it resources to rescue relationships: relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employee and boss and neighbor and neighbor. We want to so penetrate the landscape of our community that when people seek help for the most important relationships in their lives, River Park Community Church would be the top of mind response. “River Park Community Church is the place where I can find help for the most important things in life.”

 

Who’s in?

January 23, 2008 — Leave a comment

Inside/outside. Something is either in or out. You cannot be both completely inside and completely outside. It is a spacial impossibility. However, you can be on the outside looking in or on the inside looking out. But in order to do so, you have be in a certain place at a certain time. Place and time make inside and outside possible.

 

 

 

As a church planter, the most frequently asked question I get from church people is “Where is your building?” In church, we always say church is not a building, it is a people. But I am convinced, because of the frequency of questions like this, and more importantly the way we live our lives most church people believe that church is a place that we do things at more than it is anything else. In other words, if you ask people, “What is church?”, they will describe something they do at a place they go a few hours each week on Sunday.

 

 

This is the problem, when church is a place you do something at, it becomes a spacial reality. It has an inside and an outside. When you are on the inside you concern yourself with things that are inside. When I am in my house, I do household things. When I am inside, I militantly uphold the insideness of inside. I yell at my kids for playing with outdoor things inside. I talk about using “inside voices.” I have a whole cabinet full of bottles and spray cans filled with things especially designed to keep outside-dirt outside and outside-critters outside. Even within our very language—a castle becomes a ruin, when the outside has invaded the inside in the form of trees and bushes and lichen on the stairwells and in the banquet hall. I like the inside and I want to keep it that way. There is a whole regimen of things we do, unconsciously, to keep the outside outside and maintain the insideness of inside.

 

 

We have a whole regimen within the church of keeping what’s on the outside outside. Consequently, there is often a very strict and legal delineation of who and what is in and who and what is out. What is “in” is really spiritual, what is “out” is carnal and unspritiual. What is “in” is pure and what is “out” is corrupt. At its worst we divide reality between what is spiritual and what is not. Everything inside the church begins to appear to be the only thing that is spiritual and everything else–well . . . it is going to hell in a handbasket. So . . . we spend a great deal of time making sure that who and what we are attached to isn’t in that handbasket. The problem with this conception is that it isn’t true. Yes there are truths and there are lies. The “Truth” does exist. There are right things and wrong things. But . . . everything is spiritual. In the Bible, the author of Hebrews, writes “That in Him we move and have our being.” We worship the God of the heavens (The “heavens” is literally the very air around us. And it is in it that we live and move and breath. And it is from it that God speaks.)

 

 

There are really two streams of thought in the world: “Know thyself” and “Love they neighbor.” “Know thyself” epitomizes the inward quest. It assumes that in order to know the world, I must first know myself. Historically, Christianity stood for the concept that knowledge of self is not an inward pursuit but an outward pursuit. I.e. “I truly know myself when I know and love God—a personality outside myself.” Ironically, when I know God who is outside myself, He comes inside and makes me a sort of dwelling for himself. That is when I truly become me. In that instant outside is inside. It breaks all spacial rules.

 

To further complicate things, Jesus said that the pursuit of knowing and loving God is related to “loving thy neighbor.” In first John 4, the apostle makes the relationship between the two even clearer. Everyone who knows God, loves his neighbor(brother); one who doesn’t love his brother does not know or love God, because God is love. The two commandments are two sides of the same coin. Loving our neighbor is an expression of our love for God. It is a testimony of the character of God which is love.

 

 

If this is true for us individually, could it be true of us organizationally? When we know and love God, in some ways the inside/outside dichotomy breaks down. It really must, if we are to truly love our neighbor which according the Apostle John, is how the world will know that we are followers of Christ, could it be true that in order to fulfill our mission organizationally that the inside/outside dichotomy must break down?

 

 

 

Currently there is a raging debate over what church should and shouldn’t do. Largely it is a debate about what happens at a building for a few hours on Sunday. I think that this debate is based upon a huge assumption—that “church” is something we do a few hours on Sunday. This assumption is the fuel of the debate. What if church is something altogether different.

 

When Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Is He talking about a few hours on Sunday? When He says of Peter’s faith, “Upon this rock, I will build a few hours on Sunday? When the Apostle Paul says the purpose of church “is to equip the saints for the work of service” is he referring to a few hours on Sunday? When the Apostle Paul says that the church is the hope of the world, are the things we do for a few hours on Sunday the hope of the world?

What if church really isn’t a place we go to a few hours on Sunday? What if we really believed and acted upon “We are the church.” At that point, it is not about about who is inside and who is outside. It is not about us against them. It is about us, a group of people, on mission to change “this.” “This” is everything else. It is every career, every invention, every musical composition, it is our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with our friends and family. “This” is everything. We are on mission to change it–to transform it according to vision of its creation.