We celebrated our fourth birthday as a church this past Sunday (23 Feb 2014). And honestly, it still feels like we’re just getting started. In 2007 we were inspired to plant “a church for the unchurched” while attending the Exponential (Church Planting) Conference in Orlando, Florida. A session by Vince Antonucci (vinceantonucci.com) in particular is what gave us the kick in the pants we needed to make Rechurch a reality. We knew God was calling us to New Zealand to start new churches. He later led us to the city of Christchurch to plant a particular kind of church – a church designed specifically to reach the enormous population of people here who want absolutely nothing to do with church. We want people to reconsider their negative perceptions of church…to rethink church. In other words, we’re a church for people who don’t like church. From a marketing standpoint, this is a terrible approach. But from a Biblical standpoint, it hits the nail on the head. When Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples, they all knew they would be attempting to make disciples from people who were NOT CHRISTIANS…naturally, right?! And what was their method for making disciples? They started churches (see Acts). We have the same mission today.
“Church planting is the single most effective form of evangelism under heaven.” –C. Peter Wagner
“Churches shouldn’t do anything that makes it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God” (Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide).
“It is my judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).
If this is all true, why do so many of our churches come across like clubs for Christians to outsiders? And why is it sometimes difficult for unbelievers to simply enter the doors of our churches? We’ve been wrestling with these questions and doing our best to come up with practical answers in order to create a church that unchurched people love to attend. We’ve had heaps of ideas that didn’t work, but along the way we’ve found a few that have. Here are a few of our favourites in no particular order:
When planting churches for the unchurched…
1. Location, Location, Location: Go to where the people are and start your church there. A seasoned church planter once told us to find a popular shopping centre in our target area and plant as close to it as possible. So we planted Rechurch in The Palms Shopping Centre. And since reaching the unchurched is a core value of ours, we began in the most logical of places: Fox & Ferret and then Reading Cinemas. Everyone goes to the pub in Christchurch, right? And everyone loves to go to the movies. So why not remove the unnecessary barriers associated with traditional church locations and take the Gospel to the pub or the cinemas or another popular site in the city? Jesus did it (Mark 2:13-17).
2. Teach investing and inviting. Early on and consistently, we encourage people at Rechurch to invest time into the lives of their unchurched friends. We then encourage them to invite those people into a Rechurch environment where they can belong before they believe. We don’t encourage preaching in the streets with megaphones or anything resembling that idea.
3. Belonging before believing. We need to allow room for people to belong to our communities without expecting them to believe and act like Christians. We’re intentional about creating environments at Rechurch where anyone would feel comfortable attending, asking questions, and even challenging our faith. We’ve found that once people feel like they belong and are accepted at church, they are much more open to believing in what or whom we’re talking about.
4. Your assumptions create your crowd. It’s important that everyone feels they belong at church. If communicators at our churches expect everyone in the room to have a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible and Christian “language,” soon we will find that our churches consists exclusively of people who think they are Bible scholars and who are fluent in Christian-ese. And it won’t be because we taught them well. It will be because everyone else felt uncomfortable and eventually stopped coming. This is one of the most common “disconnectors” for the unchurched, so leave the Christian-ese behind and assume that people know nothing about the Bible. A quick tip: Instead of saying, “Paul said…,” explain who Paul is. “This guy who wrote a bit of the Bible named Paul said…”
5. There’s so much more to say…If you’re serious about church planting for the unchurched, start here:
Deep & Wide by Andy Stanly
The Search to Belong by Joseph R. Myers
No Perfect People Allowed by John Burke
Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts by Jim Griffity
Launch by Nelson Searcy
We’re still learning about how to best reach the unchurched in Christchurch. If you’re open to joining us in this huge task by starting new churches for the unchurched, let’s talk! We like coffee.