Everyone likes to read the “success” stories. Successful ministry initiatives, successful church plants, successful events. As a culture we celebrate our “successes” and try to forget our “failures,” or to phrase it in a way more palatable to us, those initiatives that “didn’t meet our expected outcomes.” Notwithstanding that our metric of “success” or “failure” is subjective, we often can miss what we learn from the things that didn’t go the way we hoped.
The irony is that most things that we determine are a success grew out of the collective experience of things that didn’t quite go the way we planned. We have much wisdom to glean from those experiences and today we will look at one such story.
Pastor Eric Brooks is currently a pastor at Strathcona Baptist Church in Edmonton. He and I sat down together for coffee and donuts a while back and among other things talked about his experience as a church planter. He shared with me that though the plant closed after seven years, he came to realize one very important element was missing. ~Shannon Youell
GUEST WRITER – ERIC BROOKS:
The Canopy Christian Community was an NAB church plant in south Edmonton. We were located on Gateway Boulevard, in the basement of CKER radio (in a space that at one time had been The City Media Club, but had sat vacant for several years). We started in 2001, and closed the doors in 2008.
When we planted the Canopy, I believe we had a very compelling and well articulated vision. In fact, not only did our team feel that way, we had feedback to that effect from several quarters. We were also convinced that if we communicated a compelling vision in a compelling way, people would join us. But three things were missing:
1. What we realized later was that something significant was missing: an effective strategy for facilitating community. While we were calling people to something meaningful, we failed to help them build good relationships with one another. I think in the end we realized that vision will bring people, but community will keep them around.
2. We intentionally established our meeting place outside of a residential community (we had a great meeting space in an industrial area), and in retrospect, it could have been beneficial to have intentionally been in a residential community.
3. We had good financial support: we were being supported by 5 churches. We also had good formal support in the form of church planting training, a coach, etc. What was missing was a sense of personal connection to another church: prayer support, personal connection and mentoring for our planting team… while we received invaluable financial support, that was the extent of the connection that we had.
As I write these three things, the common thread of missing significant community connections seems obvious. The irony that we were “The Canopy Christian Community” is pretty thick.
There is much for us all the consider in Eric’s reflection on his time with The Canopy. He highlights the crucial aspect of building rich relational equity–within our worship and discipling community, within the surrounding community and with other partners, supporters and mentors.
The Canopy had all the criteria to be a successful plant based on a particular metric and model: a compelling vision, a great space to gather, excellent coaching, training, financial and prayer support. And yet, the community felt a sense of disconnect from one another, from their surrounding neighborhood and even from those who were enthusiastic supporters of the ministry they envisioned.
What can we learn about our own context from Eric’s story? Are there ways we might re-imagine the shaping of what a successful plant requires? What about in our existing congregations? Is our relational equity formed solely around our weekly gathering in the building we meet in? Or is there a richness of relational discipleship happening outside of those times? What about in the area in which our meeting place is located? And the places where the congregants spend their everyday time? Are we intentionally building relational equity in our communities beyond ourselves in a manner where trust is built with those who do not yet know Christ as their Lord and Saviour?
These are some of the pieces that come to my mind as I consider Eric’s message. Let us know what comes to your mind too! In this way we can build relationship here–listening and hearing from one another, sharing our places where we experience success and the wisdom we’ve gained where we experience failures–both in our initiatives and in our vision of flourishing and renewal in our existing congregations. ~ Shannon