As a Church, or team, we’ve had four shots at pioneering a new Christian community. Two of them we’ve had funding for, and the other two we haven’t had any funding or help with. Funding isn’t always the big issue though. The majority of the time it depends on who you already have with you and what relationships you have with your target audience.
Currently pioneering our fourth attempt at building a Christian community from scratch, we have so far been successful twice, and unsuccessful once. If I had to put my finger on what caused our failure it would probably be that we didn’t make any inroads into the community of which we were trying to reach out. It was well outside of my own comfort zone, and outside of any expertise that I had.
We didn’t have a single new person come and stay at the plant in six months, and that’s about as much time and money as I’m willing to spend on something that bares no fruit at all.
Now there were a few things that we have done in the three plants that are currently off the ground and going well.
Announce Your Arrival
With our Church Plants on Moorland and Birchwood we made a point of getting some flyers and letters around the estate. I think for both it was during the six months leading up to our launch date. For Birchwood I wrote a letter telling people what we were doing and inviting them to be part of the team, even if they weren’t a Christian.
I think it was Mark Driscoll or Dino Rizzo, American Church Planters, who said that when they first arrived in their city he got a list of phone numbers for almost every resident and their team rang them personally to let them know that they were launching.
Now, we’re not living in America and so things are quite different here. To get that many people’s phone numbers it would cost bomb too. Having said that, our letters and flyers did manage to bring in a handful of people to get us started.
We also started a Facebook page. I sort of cheated with that. Two years before arriving in Lincoln I made a friend page on the social media site for Ignite Church, and then I added around 1500 people from the Lincoln area. I was relentless, even getting the account banned from adding people for a couple of months, but I just kept doing it. Eventually the Facebook admin caught up with what I was doing and said that our page should be an organisation’s page. Luckily the way that they do it is to transfer your friends into ‘likes’ on your page. This meant that we had nearly 2000 people in our social network before we even got started.
We told schools and the local radio about the new Church too, and loads of local businesses too.
Choose Your Venue Well
If you are keen on being a community Church, certainly on a council estate, you’ll need to watch out for main roads and distance. Many people won’t let their children cross main roads, and they themselves don’t like walking outside of their comfort zone every Sunday.
We picked a building in the centre of our estates to plant into. Schools and community centres are a great idea, and of course there’s nothing wrong with your home if you’re close by.
I personally didn’t want to go for a home Church style plant because my aim was to reach out to the poor on our estate. A lot of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable with you visiting their home, and they wouldn’t feel worthy to visit yours.
On the other side of the coin, if you are reaching out to an affluent community you might need a nice conference centre that smells nice, and has decent coffee and toilets.
We’ve tried all sorts of evangelism over the years, but there a few ways in which you can’t really fail. We give loads of stuff away. Our most well known give-away is on Valentines Day when we do an outreach called Love Attack.
For Love Attack we make hundreds of Valentines gifts and knock on doors until we’ve given them all away. This way we reach out to people who don’t normally come out to other evangelistic events.
Another thing that we do is we make every service friendly to the unchurched. You can do this in a few ways, but we have a bouncy castle every week for the kids, free breakfast, and we have secular songs in worship so that if someone comes into Church for the first time ever they will know, and be able to sing along to, at least one song.
Another thing that I like to do is to outline how a service is going to proceed at the beginning of the session together. This makes newcomers feel safe because they are not going to be surprised. One lady who has recently joined one of our plants said that she likes the way that we teach everyone what we’re doing whenever we do anything during the service. I makes her feel like she knows what’s happening and why we’re doing it. For example, we explain what worship is, why we tithe, and what communion is all about.
We visit people at home, we see them at youth clubs where we volunteer, we join in with other local events that aren’t ran by the Church, we hang out with the other parents on the school run, we have BBQs and bonfires on our front garden and invite people in for a beer as they pass by, we call people at Church to find out when they have family or friends round and then we go to join them for a cuppa, we serve people – doing their washing, mowing their lawn, washing their dishes, and clearing their gardens.
We literally do everything we can to win the lost.
Join As Many Groups As You Can
Our city council organise neighbourhood boards, and other local groups, and then there are other groups and organisations that have meetings and do outreach events. They are all really keen on help, specially when it’s free.
We’ve been turning up to these boards and meetings for the past five years, and recently the city have asked us to organise and run the Lincoln In Bloom contest across the city. As part of that they are advertising our Church in all of their magazines and on their website. I’m really happy because the last time the council did the contest they asked me to be a judge and I met loads of people.
We get asked to run chaplaincy departments, groups, and events. All of this is because we went and got involved.
They offer us money, political backing and loads more opportunities to share the gospel and grow the influence of the Church. Why wouldn’t you want to get involved?
Often people think that you can’t share the gospel when working with councils and political or secular establishments, but because we have such a huge reputation in our community they always ask us to get involved. I let them know very clearly upfront that I am not a social worker, but I am an Evangelist. I will preach Jesus to every single person I meet at their event or meeting. One council representative said to me: “Well of course you should preach Jesus. I don’t know anything about him. You’re the expert.”
One key here is to build a large network among different networks as quickly as you can.
As I’ve said with other articles in this series, there are a load more things that we could say, and loads more tips and stories that we could share, but what we have done might not work in your community. Instead you should look to figure out how to use the principles that we’ve talked about. The final article in this series will be on planning the next stage of growth.