Is Your Heart Broken for Your Community?

Before you set out to plant a church, your heart must be broken for the community. It may seem obvious and you’re most likely nodding your head in the affirmative. But you must be sure.

There are going to be set-backs and disappointments in your church planting. There will be times when the only thing that holds you to the cause is your love for the people in your community.

And if your heart isn’t broken don’t even bother planting. If you do, it’s really about you then. And that’s a sin.

You can’t just tell us your heart is broken. I’d recommend you spend some time really thinking/praying through this.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you’re heart really is broken for the place where you will plant.

  1. If this is the only place you’ll ever plant a church will you be content?
  2. Do you see the suffering? It’s there. Does it move you in a significant way.
  3. Do you see/understand the assets of the community?
  4. Do you have a holy discontent for the community?
  5. What evidence do you have that God is at work in this place? Is it clear how He’s calling you to participate.
  6. Do you find it easy to connect with people?
  7. Do you have an extra dose of patience for people?
  8. Do you understand how people in the community live, work and play? Do you respect it?
  9. Do you see the people of the community through God’s eyes? What evidence do you have?
  10. Do you find that you are genuinely interested in all people/groups you encounter in the community.

What about you? What are some ways you can be sure you’re heart is broken for the community?

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10 Things to Consider When Partnering with Community Organizations

What I love about church planters is their desire to partner with non-profits or community organizations. Literally every planter I meet has a heart and passion for serving their community. This is awesome. We need to celebrate it.

And one of the best ways to do this is to partner with organizations who are already doing good things in your community.  Plenty of people and organizations are working hard to help and serve your community. Your challenge is to find the organizations that align with your vision for the community and join them. jigsaw-puzzle-pieces-fitting-together-on-blue

Of course, I am assuming you’re committing all of this to prayer. As you do that, here are some things to consider when partnering with the community…

  1. Think relationships. Your goal is to build relationships with community partners. The best serving opportunities are those that offer equal opportunities for relationship building.
  2. Make heroes of your partners. Whether you’re working with schools, a community organization or a non-profit, strive to make them the heroes.
  3. Serve with no-strings attached. Please don’t make a prerequisite of your serving prayer or attendance at your church…that’s ridiculous.
  4. Be generous, with your time and money.
  5. It’s NEVER about you. It’s never about you or your church or your program. It’s ALWAYS about serving your community.
  6. Listen to the people in your community to learn their true needs. This takes time.
  7. Slower is better when building a relationship with a community partner.
  8. Under-Promise and over-deliver. Simple.
  9. Needs are seasonal. They often change as the community changes. What may have been a need 5 years ago doesn’t mean it remains so.
  10. Find the right leader to manage the relationship.

I hope to be writing about each of these in more detail. In the meantime, I hope this list gets you started.

What about you? What have you learned about partnering with community organizations? What have I missed?

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How to Become an Advocate for the Local

Local: of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place : not general or widespread.

Advocate: one that supports or promotes the interests of another.

I love Starbucks coffee. I also love at working and meeting people at Starbucks.

LocalBut as much as I love Starbucks, I’d rather hangout at a local coffee shop. The coffee will be richer, the music just a bit cooler, and the people will be a bit friendlier. Besides, I am always more productive at a local place–well, it sure feels that way.

There’s a couple of great coffee places in Kansas City. (I recommend the Quay in Rivermarket.) And now that I am transitioning back to the Chicago suburbs, I am looking for any local coffee shops. Unfortunately there aren’t many options.

See, I value the local. I suspect you do as well. In our over-marketed, hyper-consumer society there is something rich and pure about the local experience. We want that unique experience the local provides. My experience as Starbucks will always be the same no matter where I am. My experience in a local coffee shop will always be unique.

That’s why I urge church planters to become the chief advocates for their local community. We talk about contextualizing the gospel message to the community that God calls us to plant a church.  And one way to do that is to promote the interests of others. Taking up the cause of someone else is another way to serve them, isn’t it?

 We an opportunity to serve people in our community by becoming advocates for the local.

So what would it look like for you to patron all of the local businesses, to advocate for local causes and events, to advocate for the local public schools?

There are lots of things for you to advocate in your community if you think about it:

  1. The music scene.
  2. Art fairs.
  3. Teen crisis centers.
  4. Pubs and eateries.
  5. food co-ops.
  6. Boys and girls clubs.
  7. Sports leagues.
  8. Owner operated coffee shots.
  9. Volunteer programs at the local school.
  10. Public school teachers.
  11. Library and literacy events.
  12. Community block parties.
  13. Safe children programs.
  14. After school programs for teens.
  15. Races, 5Ks, 10Ks and other sporting events.

I am sure this will get you thinking…

Now be careful here. I am not saying that you become the chief marketer in your community. Leave that to the local chamber of commerce. And I’d advise you to stay out of anything that is political or divisive in the community. There are plenty of people fighting for causes.

Advocacy is different. It’s ultimately about serving the agenda of others.

The church has a unique opportunity to serve the community by promoting the general interests of the community. And that’s a great way to contextualize the gospel.

What about you? What are some ways you can become the local advocate of your community?

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25 Questions to Help You Better Understand Your Community

According to John Perkins (from the foreward of the book Submerge by John B. Hayes), incarnation means going into every culture, living among the people affirming their dignity and loving them. comm

Planting a church is one way to incarnate the gospel.

And to incarnate the gospel you’re going to need to learn about your community. No–really learn about it. In fact, church planters need to be subject matter experts about their community. Because understanding your community will help you better contextualize the gospel.

So let me ask you: How much do you know about your community where you are planting your church? How much of what you know have you learned from people who actually live there.

See, what you need to do is to learn about the community in which God is sending you BEFORE YOU PLANT.

The only way you can plant a deep, incarnational church, is to live with, understand and love the people you’re serving.

Here are 25 questions I hope will help you understand your community better:

  1. How do people spend their free time?
  2. How do people make their living?
  3. Where does the community gather for fun?
  4. What do people say are the greatest assets of the community?
  5. What do people say are the greatest challenges in the community?
  6. Where do people go to eat?
  7. What sports does the community embrace?
  8. What is the history of the community?
  9. Where do the artists hang-out?
  10. Who are major employers in the community?
  11. What are the schools like?
  12. What are the major crimes in the community.
  13. Where do the poor live? Where do the rich live?
  14. What are the centers of power in the community
  15. Who are the marginalized?
  16. How do people get around in the community.
  17. What obvious injustices exist in the community?
  18. Where do people shop?
  19. How do people vote in the community?
  20. Where do the ‘fringe’ or subcultural groups live in the community?
  21. What non-profits serve the community?
  22. What is the spiritual pulse of the community?
  23. Who are the persons of peace in the community?
  24. Why do people move into this community?
  25. Why do people move out of this community?

I hope this list helps get you started better understanding your community. I am sure you can come up with more questions on your own. I’d love to know how you’ve gotten to know your community.

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Warning: First Impressions in Small Groups Matter Too!

I think you’d agree, first impressions matter. sparks

People expect a positive first experience. If they don’t, well they won’t be back.

Most of you planting have a first impressions or front line team to welcome your guests and make a good first impression. (If you don’t you should.) Read this now. This might help as well.

But what about first impressions in smaller communities–say in small groups? If I am honest, I haven’t thought about this much–until recently.

See, I am learning that the first connections people have into a small group are often the most enduring. If this is true, then it’s important we church planters understand how people make first connections and why they make such an impact on people.

We’ve been talking a lot about the power of connecting at Restore these days. Connecting with each other and God is a key value for us. And so I’ve been talking to some of the people who found their way back to God at Restore. What I’ve found is that people talk a lot about their first connections into community.

That led me to ask some people who found their way back to God how their first connections helped them grow. So I had a conversation with my friend James whose first impression in a small group was catalytic to his spiritual growth. He agreed to answer some questions about this last week.

James reveals that this first connection in small group was catalytic. They joined one in the summer of 2011 and were soon baptized. James became an apprenticeship and today he leads his own small group. James attributes his ever-increasing spiritual velocity to those very first connections.  I am grateful to James for his willingness to share his story with us. I hope it helps you think through connecting in your small group context.

“Probably like most folks, a little uncomfortable at first.  I was actually reluctant to go at first, I felt that I wasn’t ready to come to a small group because I didn’t know any thing about the bible and I wasn’t sure I was far enough in my journey and I wasn’t comfortable praying in front of other people and on and on and on.  However I found that many of the people in the group were just like me, not super Christians that were above everyone else, but real people with real world issues struggling to figure out their own journey with the help of the small group community.  The other important piece of the small group was the connection with others that grew into contributing, I’m not sure if or when I would have become involved without these first connections.  It’s been 2 years since we attended our first small group and those first connections that were created are still some of my strongest connections within the restore family, relationships that have truly turned in to Brothers in Christ.”

So I ask you as I ask myself:

  • Should we be paying more attention to first connections in small groups?
  • How should we try to foster better first connections in small communities?
  • Should we value first connections like these over others? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree that some first connections in a spiritual community are stronger than others?
  • How could we better prepare our leaders to be more aware of these first connections?

I’d love to hear from you.

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