When I was in seminary, my preaching professor used to tell us that we should be transformed by our own preaching: in the study of the text, in the preparation of the manuscript and in the actual act of preaching. This was not about falling into a “Wow . . . I am God’s holy gift to the pulpit!” mentality, but to challenge ourselves to be open to where the Holy Spirit may be leading throughout the entire process. After all, if I, as the preacher, do not find new life and transformation in the Word, how could I expect to share it in any way that the congregation would?
And so it is with this new church plant idea that we unvieled just a little over a week ago. We had not planned on announcing the project until summer/fall, but with our need to begin some early conversations, word started getting out. We knew that we would have to deal with a wide breadth of reactions, so we decided to get ahead of the slowly moving train and announce earlier than planned. As it turns out, this has worked out really well. While far from unanimous, we have received a solid response from most folks, great survey responses and the facebook group has been all aflutter with threads of theology, life and the nature of being church. The Leadership Team is optimistic and has indeed been moved by the initial response as well as our own excitement to be part of it.
At some point we will have a website with our own blog and such, but for now, you’ll just have to bear with my blog for general updates about this thing we are calling for now, a church online. For some personal reflections from others in leadership, please also visit: Mihee Kim-Kort’s, A Church Online | Beta: What’s the Point? ; Derrick Weston’s A Church Online?; Katie Mulligan’s Where is Everybody?; and Steve Salyard’s, Where Two or Three are Gathered.
- What’s in a Name? – Don’t worry, we will soon be choosing a name. This task will be headed up by the Communication and Social Media Ministry Area and is a high priority. The Leadership Team will gather name suggestion from the survey, other online interaction and our own discussions and present a slate of names folks to vote on. Be thankful that we will be doing a little filtering first as “En Fuego,” my personal favorite for any new church plant, has been taken off the table 😉
- Facebook for Now – This new church is NOT a Facebook church. We just happened to start on Facebook because we know that this is where many folks live their social media lives. In the future we will be present on social networks where people are now as well as on a webhub of our own for other church activity. I suspect you will see us on Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, etc. as well have our own blog from where much content and coordination will originate.
- The F2F Myth – Steve and Katie both address the “but you can’t be church without face to face contact” response that we have received from many folks. No one on this team believes that we are going to be a church that exists only online. We have always understood that there must be a face-to-face element to the community. I am sure that we will continue to get this kind of reaction and we acknowledge that there will always be a tension that we must keep in mind, but please. if you hear anyone saying, “Those Presbyterian cyborg church planters over there have decided to do away with human-to-human interaction!” feel free to correct them.
- Lone Rangers We Will Try Not to Be – Any person who loves aspects of starting new things *raises hand* has to find a good balance between collaboration and independence when starting a new project. How many people does one invite into the process and at what stages of thinking are more or less people needed? As we launch this church, there will be folks who will be impressed the level of openness we are inviting into the process while others will feel left-out and think that I am creating some exclusive club. This is just another one of the tensions that we will hold as we find partnerships that will be central to our life. In the near future we will be looking for Conference Center or Seminary Sponsor Face-to-Face gatherings, new or established Social Media platforms that we may want to integrate into our life, other online ministry partners with whom we can “talk shop” about this new world and our number one our partner search list . . . find a Presbytery who would be interested in being our fiscal agent and possible future originator of call for our pastoral staff, so if you know of anyone.
- Leadership Team Expansion – One of the downsides of starting earlier than expected is that we were not able to fully flesh out what the Leadership Team should/will look like. We understand that the initial team was Teaching Elder heavy so we are slowly beginning to add folks to the team who are not in any ordered form of ministry: Ruling Elder, Members, Participant, etc. While we will def have a nominating process in the future, at this point the current Leadership Team is having conversations about folks who would make be a good fit for which ministry areas. We will eventually end up 50/50 Teaching Elder /Ruling Elder Leadership Team. A roster should be out soon.
- Some Survey Numbers – We want to thank the 400+ people who filled out our initial survey. With this amount of info we are still analyzing the data and we will share findings from time to time. One of the most interesting outcomes what WHO filled it out. As best as could be sluthed, when we were at 376 responses a few days ago, the numbers were as follows with The 156 of folks not already in some kind of organized ministry was a pretty exciting number for us.
- Teaching Elders (Pastor-types): 132
- Seminarians & Candidates: 30
- Christian Educators & CLP’s: 8
- Ruling Elders (Ordained members-types): 50
- Not in organized ministry: 156
- Not That We Don’t Love our Teaching Elders – One of the other numbers that has not surprised us is the high number of Teaching Elders who filled out the survey and joined the Facebook Group. Like any grouping, there is no one version of the Teaching Elder in the bunch. Some are in full-time calls and curious about what we are doing, some are looking for a call and want to help out and still others are exploring new ways of being church after giving up on the traditional church call. We also know that one of the realities of pastoring these days is that there are few places where pastors get to just be part of the community without feeling like he/she has to lead it in some way. The Leadership Team has talked a great deal about how we both stay focused on planting a church while meeting the needs of interested pastor types. To be clear, we are not planting a church for pastors. As with any congregation, there will be opportunities for pastors to be involved as we evolve, but our primary focus is on that group above, “not in organized ministry.” We cannot create the kind of church that values “the priesthood of all believers” if we have an overabundance of Teaching Elders driving the formation and shape of the community. That said, we also want to encourage the kind of conversations and geeking out about theology and ecclesiology that many Teaching Elders have had so we are inviting anyone who wants to be a kind of advisory board and covenant group to join our Teaching Elders Advisory Council, Huzzah (TEACH) Facebook Group and let loose. This will not only be a group that we hope offers community to Teaching Elders, but it will one of many experiments for our church as we try to address the needs and yearnings of particular parts of the church.
- A Culture of Deliberate Urgency – We realize that real life time and internet time are vastly different. As this community grows and evolves, it is my hope that we leverage the power of crowdsourcing, embrace the speed with which life moves online and model thoughtful planning and a resistance to anxiety driven reaction. I know that some want us to be faster, have more things set up and get this thing going more than it is now, but I am encouraging us take frequent breaths and breaks, to avoid getting caught up in the frenzies and model a healthy balance of life on and off-line.
- What “They” are Saying – While this is not about notoriety and friend count, we do know that my visibility in the church will draw attention, affirmation and accusations our way. We welcome reflections that affirm and challenge and are more than willing to share when others folks are talking about us. Here are just a few, but feel free to send more our way and we’ll do our best to share: The Presbyterian Layman, The Presbyterian Outlook, WonderCafe.ca, Daniel Haas, Rocky Supinger and Carol Howard Merritt uses our announcement to offer, The spiritual nature of social media.
- Launch Date – In the broadest understanding of being church, we have launched, but due to many factors – planning, life and logistics – we will begin an official weekly worship expression this Fall, maybe the first week of September. While it might seem a long way off, we feel like we need this time of planning and foundation building if we are going to build a community for the longterm. Never fear, there will be plenty to keep us all busy during this time of experimentation and planning!
And now your Invitation . . .
As we move in to the next stages of our life we have organized our work into six areas of focus. Below are the areas that we have created as well as the kinds of questions that they will be grappling with. For now we will continue to conduct our work on Facebook, so if you are interested in being part of more specific planning around these areas, please request to join the appropriate facebook group.
- Worship and Arts: How/when will we worship? What will Sacrament look like? [Facebook Group]
- Pastoral Care and Connections: How do we address face-to-face issue/concern? How shall we pray for one another: big group as well as individual? Other groups that would want to encourage: parents, seminarians, etc. [Facebook Group]
- Communication and Social Media: Naming and Branding issues. What platforms will we use and for what? How will we us video and other media? [Facebook Group]
- Education and Spiritual Direction: How/what shall we study? Spiritual direction offerings? Youth group? [Facebook Group]
- Mission and the Public Square: What will Mission look like? What does giving look like? What will public social engagement look like? [Facebook Group]
- Strategy and Structure: Overall guiding Principles and Belief Statement. Finance Structure, Budget and Fiscal Agent. Nominating Committee for First Steering Committee/Session, Timeline, Leadership Team Coordination, Denominational Relationships [Facebook Group]