Engaging Mission with Coaching and Cohort Opportunities

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Wow! Fall is looming up before us already and most of us are making plans for how we can be salt and light, the Church, in our neighbourhoods in this next season, whatever it may hold for us in the ongoing changing landscape of life disrupted by a pandemic and other world events!

It also means deadlines for engaging in some of the amazing opportunities and pathways available to you and which you can read more details about HERE including the contacts for registration.

This past year (September through March) two of our CBWC churches participated in the Year One Course From the Centre for Leadership Development – “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age. One of those churches was where I attend. Five of our leadership team took part in reimagining engaging in mission right in our own area. This has benefited us greatly in understanding together how we can move deeper in shared practices within our church community and engage more relevantly and meaningfully by discovering where God is already at work bringing his presence, his shalom, into our neighbourhoods. The good work we did in that course and the consultation with Tim for our whole Leadership Team (board, elders, staff) is now being fleshed out with a larger group of our folk as we endeavor to discern together how God is forming and reshaping us to engage in his mission. Registration is open now for a mid-September start!

More than a decade ago when I was an Associate Pastor at another church, I brought some our leaders to an event brought to Victoria from The Forge Missional Network and facilitated by our own Cam Roxburgh (who I did not know back then). This opportunity was sponsored by our City-Wide Ministerial, and leaders from a wide range of churches and denominations in Victoria attended this workshop/course Friday and Saturday. It changed and began to reshape my understanding of evangelism, discipleship and mission, and gave words to what had been a growing passion in myself and the leaders who attended with me. Fast forward to today and we have The Discovery Project pathway to begin the conversation with your church and leaders. “Many leaders have gone through some missional training and are asking how they might help their people to “discover” some of the exciting opportunities presented to us as followers of Jesus in these difficult days.  The Discovery Project is one response to this question.”  Registration for this pathway is flexible as is church specific but don’t delay as space fills up!

For our churches who are already exploring what it means to be the Church in our day as missional engaged people, The Neighbourhood Project is here to help! This pathway brings together cohorts of groups to explore, equip and implement what the Spirit is leading them to. This pathway is filling up so fast, its now added a second and likely a third cohort and there is still some room so don’t delay!

Again, you can access more information and contacts for registration HERE

Don’t miss out on these great opportunities as we all desire to participate in the advancing of God’s kingdom here on earth!

How then, shall we meet?

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By Shannon Youell

“The most missional question we can be asking is: in what ways do we meet again’?” 

Summer is here!  Many folks have at least one vaccine and, increasingly, two; Provincial Health Orders are being incrementally relaxed, and people are just aching to get back to normal activities.  Perhaps your church has already started meeting again, (in some provinces, such as BC where I am, we haven’t been able to have even limited church services until a few weeks ago), or you are just now experiencing an increase in the number of people who can congregate.  

Whatever your current situation, I am hoping we are not so excited to finally see our brothers and sisters gathered for worship that we quickly forget everything we have been learning these past fifteen months about ourselves, our societal and church cultures, our mission beyond a Sunday service, our discipleship, and our gatherings. 

So I draw us back to the question I asked last month:  

                                   “In what ways do we meet again?” 

As much as I am looking forward to meeting in person again, I must also confess that some aspects of online is enticing, especially the aspect where I actually have a Sunday left to be present with family, friends and neighbours.  For people involved in hosting, facilitating and ministering on Sundays there is often little time and energy leftover for just hanging out with whoever might be around. 

I am a walker.  I have walked and prayed in my neighbourhood for more than a decade, usually after work or in the early evenings when the days are longer, and I rarely met other people.    With a one hour service online, my walks have often been in the middle of the day and what I observed was how many people are actually home and about the neighbourhood on a Sunday!  It turns out the one day I may have more opportunities to meet people who don’t know Jesus is the same day I predominantly spend with other believers. 

This has alerted me.  Here are the ripening harvest fields, yet the harvesters are not in the fields but beautifully and meaningfully gathering together in a building.  I will say again as I have previously:  I am not advocating brothers and sisters in Christ cease gathering – I am simply asking the question through a missional lens: “in what ways do we meet again”.   This is a rapidly growing conversation being engaged by pastors and denominational associations and, I pray, by all of us who are followers and co-labourers of Christ. 

As I was writing this article, my inbox box reminded me of unread emails (I hope I’m not the only one who has those!) and one of them was a post from Carey Nieuwhof earlier this week on his blog.  The title caught my attention, “5 Confessions of a Pastor about Online Church Attendance”.  It caught my eye since I am in the mood for confessing.  In the blog Carey confessed his own enjoyment of a more relaxed Sunday and also shared the same observation in his neighbourhood as had I. Hmmmm.

 Read it HERE and let us know what you think; what worries you; what challenges you and what excites you; and where you see God at work amid the things that are shifting.  In everything we’ve gone through and learned during this pandemic experience, what have you been learning about joining God on His mission of reconcilliation, redemption and restoration in the world he so loves?   

Shannon is the CBWC Director of Church Planting (and passionate voice for churches growing towards missional communities).  Drop her an email at syouell@cbwc.ca – we’d love to hear from you! 

House by House

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By: Shannon Youell

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

(Synagogue:  a community house of worship) 

In my previous blog HERE I wrote that church planting can be accidental outgrowths of our right-in-the-neighbourhood missionary impulses of evangelism and discipleship.   

In the early New Testament church we find missionaries going to households where people, who were either Jewish believers or curious and/or God-fearers,1 lived. Often those would be people who lived near and around the evangelists.  Think of Jesus in Luke 10 and “people of peace” but right in your own neighbourhood/community.  There whole households heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus our Lord and Savior and were baptized.  Those ‘households’ then became the church, people who assembled to tell the stories of their faith, eat together (which included the Eucharist), learn together, pray together and share the gospel with one another and others in their community. 

This is in contrast to missionaries starting a service in an area of town that drew people to a building to participate in those same rhythms together.  That came much later.  There is no indication that the first missionaries were looking to erect a common meeting space that would be called the ‘church’, but that these localized, contextual ‘households2’ of faith were indeed the Church.  

One might argue that the ‘first’ church was comprised of those who were followers of Jesus prior to his ascension plus those added three thousand at Pentecost as countering the idea of church in households, but the reality is where did those three thousand go for daily, weekly meals, prayers and participatory worship?  At times they gathered in larger numbers around the temple in Jerusalem but the thrust of life and missionary impulse happened in these smaller ‘households of faith’ that facilitated and were leaders of this new Way.  This is where the ‘adding of numbers’ continued and expanded.  Often the period of the 1st and 2nd centuries and into the 3rd are cited as the most robust period in history for people coming to faith in Christ thus indicating that people predominantly came to faith through interpersonal relationships and the witness of seeing the lives of believers in their everyday rhythms and practices. 

In 2008 a study was done on how many Christians it took to gain 1 convert.  The study concluded that it took eighty-nine.  Eighty-nine to one is not a good ratio!  However, at the same time the author(s) looked at how many Christians to gain 1 convert it took in house churches with a missional ethos:  3:1 & 4:1 were realized in two independent studies.  That’s a large gap.  Whether that 89:1 ratio were 89 people along the path of life who influenced the 1, or a calculation of church membership over new conversions, one cannot miss the correlation that it takes far fewer relationships when people are in regular proximity and in regular social groups together.   If those same 89 where in the smaller more localized churches the extrapolated conversions would be 22.   

Personally, I don’t see the demise of larger church gatherings as a near future event – they will always have a place and purpose.  But I do see the need for followers of Jesus, especially those who have a heart for those who are not-yet-followers to discover ways to engage with them.  Though not limited to any one group, millennials in particular have left the church in stunning numbers, yet for those who have left but not rejected faith in God, they yearn for smaller, more interconnected communities of fellow sojourners.   

What does that mean for our larger gatherings?  How might we re-engage absent millennial Christians in the rhythms and practices of faith?  How can the church make the most impact in evangelism and discipleship in a post-Christendom world that though seeking spiritual conversations would not consider a church building the place to engage them?   How might our church gatherings begin to foster “community houses of worship” in actual houses again?

As churches begin to gear up for a return to meeting together, primarily in buildings other than homes, this is the prime opportunity for us to consider these and so many other questions.  Rather than the question being ‘when can we meet together again’, is the most missional question can we can be asking is ‘in what ways do we meet again?’

Let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.   

Remissioning: Grandma’s Church

By Shannon Youell

One of my favorite paintings is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. One of the ways this painting speaks to me is in the imagery of the village. It is night and the glory of God fills the skies. The church with its darkened windows rests in the middle of the village. But the lights burn bright in the windows of the homes in the neighbourhood. There, people gather around meals, prayer, conversation, thankfulness with family, with friends, with neighbours. This is what I think of as I read this quote exerted from today’s guest blogger of viewing one’s one’s “own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.”

In this New Leaf Network Blog Post, author Rohadi picks up on some of the thinking of our previous blog post on Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God within neighbourhoods. Both these great posts were written pre-covid yet their relevance to the types of reflecting, processing, thinking and questioning the church is doing in the midst of our disrupted understanding of what it means to be the church is definitely worth asking yourself and your church some important questions about what God is saying to the church today, in times such as these.

This article by Rohadi was originally posted on the New Leaf Network Blog.

My grandma used to spend the odd Sunday strolling to service two blocks from her home. She lived during a time when everyone went to church, or in the very least knew the stories. Church was part of her routine, part of her neighbourhood, and a part of Canadian culture. The time when the majority of Canadians attended a church service is gone, but I think there’s something worthy to reclaim from grandma’s church from the ‘60s. Not for its assumed position of privilege, but the value of local parish ministry living out a story of “the best yet to come.” Despite current trends to centralize the church (strategizing to strengthen what you have versus planting something new), the presence of the local parish may be a critical key to revitalizing Christianity in post-Christian Canada.

I’m somewhat surprised how, despite facing profound loss as a whole, church leaders implement changes incrementally at a time when most are clamouring to find ways to reverse the exodus. Maybe it’s too little too late? The way leaders justify incrementalism is by picking the latest strategies and tactics that seem to be working for resilient churches somewhere else. If it works for them it should work for us, they’d say.

Evangelicals are beating declining national trends that are most evident in mainline denominations. Some even report very modest growth. Does a silver bullet lie within the function of evangelicalism? Depends what the goal is. If it’s to ensure a resilient church for Christians then yes. If it’s to “preach the Gospel to the lost,” then no.

Tips to Success
Want to lead a resilient and even growing church? Here’s what you need: strengthen programming to young families, ensure strong culturally relevant preaching, have exceptional music, maybe strong programs to baby boomers as well. This is a gross oversimplification, but if you can deliver programming with effectiveness, you’re going to hold your own, and attract the already churched. But in terms of conversion growth, that requires different expertise.

The Naked Emperor
As a whole, evangelical growth occurs via very specific sources. When we consult the data, over the past twenty years churches that add members do so through three primary and almost exclusive ways.

  1. New births.
  2. Christian immigrants.
  3. Christians switching churches.

The best resourced churches “grow” because they can afford robust programming for new immigrants; are the largest and by default have the most births; and have the best music and preaching that attracts the quintessential consumer Christian. Not on the list of three? Evangelicals struggle to grow by evangelism. In their book, A Culture of Faith, Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson asked congregants in evangelical churches what they thought the highest priorities in their churches were–evangelism was one of the lowest. Despite the moniker, evangelical churches don’t grow by evangelism. Even the best resourced churches struggle to connect with a post-Christendom culture where fewer hold any religious memory of the bygone church/Christian dominated Canada.

Where do we go from here?

First off, we need to shift our theological paradigm of mission. This change is both critical yet difficult to adopt. Rather than mission being a program or support for professional missionaries somewhere ‘out there in the world’, can we re-orient mission to the forefront? Can mission become the defining filter for the entire function of the church here in Canada? The implications of shifting the paradigm of mission will alter your perceptions from a church devoted to Christians for Christians, to one that re-values a participating church in the restoration of neighbourhoods for the benefit of all (as fundamental identity and not mere outreach ministry).

Challenging old paradigms of mission (some would adopt language like ‘missional’) will require more than casual lip-service. Modelling is a necessary step to take ideas beyond planning. It will mean some discomfort as we alter the things we devote the majority of our resources to—namely the Sunday service(s) and programs—so they reflect missional orientation. For example, it is difficult to claim ‘priesthood of all believers’ or encourage congregational participation in the unfolding mission of God if our gatherings are exclusively run by the qualified clergy and staff. Upsetting the rhythm of our most cherished institution (the service) won’t be easy. On one hand it is expected that staff will do most of the work because they are paid, on the other, this expectation detracts from the development of congregations out of a consumer mentality of participation. Ultimately, consumer churches are not missional churches.

Secondly, once a paradigm of mission has been established (or unrolling) leaders will seek to implement strategic direction to increase participation. One of the ways to ‘cheat’ in this process is to look at the bright spots already unfolding within your congregation, and outside in your immediate neighbourhood. You may be surprised with what people are already doing on their own accord. On average, most people will wait to join some kind of ministry the church starts. Look for the anomalies who are already living out the character of Jesus in their space and place without permission from the church. Develop these people, partner with them, and send them resources.

Thirdly, connect people based on geography. The power of the neighbourhood, of presence and proximity, cannot be replicated because it is the very foundation of incarnation—of the Word made flesh whom moved into the neighbourhood. I’ve had conversations with mega-church pastors who legitimized commuting as an asset because driving 25 minutes to a small group demonstrated deep commitment. That might be true, but it utterly devalues the neighbourhood. Jesus literally meant, love thy literal neighbour, literally next door. Literally. Combining people based on postal code is a powerful tool to create groups that are centered in the same place and ready to live out the character of Jesus where they live with people they love. I can’t think of a better pursuit for ‘small groups’. This idea, however, requires the church to process idea #1, and indeed value its very own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.

Admittedly, the paradigm shift towards a lens of mission is not an easy one to adopt. Encouraging entrenched churches to revalue proximity over commuting may be met with stiff opposition. Suggesting the resources committed for years (decades) don’t work is a tough pill to swallow especially for those who’ve spent most of that time planted in Christian culture. (It’s tough to see the world with different eyes when you’ve been inside the church the whole time.) Disrupting status quo isn’t supposed to be easy. The caveat is, over time, you will develop and attract focused people who will call an incarnational vision their own, and will give their lives towards it. Ultimately, that’s what we hope for: a community of witnesses on jealous pursuit of an unfolding love story in their neighbourhoods and beyond.

What ARE we Planting Part IV: In A Neighbourhood

By Shannon Youell

Church planting is developing an expression of God’s kingdom in a neighbourhood.

In the beautiful and familiar passage of John chapter one sits one of my favorite verses: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message this way, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14).

CC Lauren Wellicome

God, in Jesus, moved into the neighbourhood!  He went to the local school, shopped at the nearby shops, visited over the fence with his immediate neighbours, went to barn dances at the local community center, memorized the Torah at the local synagogue. He lived there, right there, God with skin on, where humanity, created in His image, lived. And He lives in my neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood. He dwells among the world He so loves and His presence invites all to participate with Him in the ministry of reconciliation.

I love this image as it helps me understand and re-see that God is already at work in the places around me. What does that mean for us as we wrestle with God and imagine with Him where he is already at work in our neighbourhoods? And where, exactly, is the neighbourhood where we are to develop this expression of God’s kingdom? Is it the neighbourhood where the building is that we gather for worship? Or the one in which we live? Or work? Or where the jogging trail, the coffee shop, the grocery store that we frequent during the week are?

Perhaps, the answer is the same answer Jesus gave when the Pharisee asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus’ short answer: the people right in front of you! Right where you have been placed. Right where you are. This is where each of us, as image-bearers of Christ, are compelled by love of neighbour to develop an expression of God’s kingdom.

We form relationships with those around us, in communities whose health and well-being affect our own health and well-being, because, as we are reminded in Jeremiah, we are not set in a place to endure until heaven, but to “seek the peace of prosperity [of the place I’ve put you]. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (29:7).

Eugene Peterson takes us on a journey of “a conversation in spiritual theology”—the subtitle of his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. The book is an amazing read, but I want to focus our attention on his observations about place in his chapter titled “Christ Plays in Creation.” He talks about how God created place for humans and it is local. It is wherever we are. And it’s not perfect; there’s a serpent slithering around. Peterson writes this:

This place, this garden, is not utopia, is not an ideal no-place.  It is simply place, locale, geography, geology.  But it is also a good place, Eden, because it provides the form by which we can live to the glory of God (page 74).  

And a few pages later he acknowledges, “Getting to know the neighbourhood, the nature and conditions of the neighbourhood, is fundamental to living to the glory of God.  It is slow and complex work” (page 78).

Pepe Pont CC BY-ND 2.0

I wonder that much of our wrestling to define neighbour and neighbourhood has to do with what we need to come to terms with.  Developing places where the glory of God is seen does take some slow, often tedious, and complex work.  It requires commitment and shared heart with God about who he loves. t demands dying to what Peterson calls “self-enclosed” lives—to opening ourselves up to an adventure of learning who is around us, and where the gospel story intersects in their own stories.  It means putting aside what we think is needed and discover together, in a neighbourhood, what is needed to usher in God’s shalom that brings healing, hope and goodness to that place.

In urban planning and developing we are seeing an intentionality in reclaiming community. In reconnecting neighbourhoods to shopping and recreation and community issues. As Christ Followers, we should be doing the same—looking neighbourhoods as places we already live, work, play and pray in. But just like in urban planning, we must be intentional. We must make an effort and take a step out of our comfort zone.

Is there a local community issue? Attend the meetings, research all sides, get to know all people involved.

Help out cleaning up the parks; participating, not just attending, local community celebrations; read to kids at schools; do a bakery or grocery pick up run for your local food bank once a week.

Make an effort: engage, encourage. Be intentional. Get to know the people around you. Start walking your neighbourhood, your local community. Chances are you might run into God taking a leisurely walk down the same streets as you.

I could share with you some stories of those who have committed themselves to this type of intentionality in their place of context, but how about you tell some of yours with all of us.

Send us a story over the next few weeks to encourage, inspire and equip us to join God where He lives…in our neighbourhoods!

Shannon Youell
CBWC Church Planting Coordinator
syouell@cbwc.ca