In my current church plant we’ve come to a crossroads. A decision needs to be made.
First some context. Cypher Church is unlike any church plant you’ve seen before, and simultaneously like every church plant you’ve seen before. Our gatherings are unique. Both of us (co-planters) share a part-time position (actually just less) which means we have limited resources and time. We’ve excelled at connecting Jesus to a generation that would never set foot in a contemporary church community, but we also struggle to figure out what every church struggles with–discipleship.
Have a look at our first gathering to get a snapshot of what we look like at an event (our version of services).
Make no mistake, these events are working. They’ve always been pleasant surprises. New people are always coming every gathering. People are being transformed as the Spirit works in mysterious ways. There are times I can’t tell what’s happening in the moment because I’m so unused to churches that have that Fire like the early church. The events still perform well, but they have plateaued.With all this in mind, we’ve come to a point in our community development where we have to make a decision. We now have a pressure to invest more time and effort in our events (services) to keep them “fresh”.
How are we going to respond? It seems counterintuitive to the contemporary church model of “how to do church planting” but we’ve decided we’re going to cancel our service.
Fighting Church Planting Perceptions
A decision every church and church plant will face, particularly ones that appeal to the demand of consumer spirituality, is how much time and resource will you put into the delivery of the central service? Often it’s too much; the Sunday service dominates our resources. It’s a resource drain, but sometimes a necessary one to keep the congregation happy. The question we overlook in the process is what else could we spend time on instead?
We are cancelling our service and re-orienting finite resources towards earnest development of disciples. But we won’t stop there, we want disciples who will in turn disciple others.
The Wrong Kind of Ministry Excellence
We can make this decision in part because we both know what works and what doesn’t in a post-Christian world. Only the Christians demand a Sunday morning gathering (we meet Friday night FWIW.) Also, there’s no tension in our choice, no higher ups telling us we need to double down on the service to get people “coming”. Our measure isn’t in attendance. Of course, that’s in stark contrast to the dominant narrative out there.
You may recall my recent post challenging the allure megachurch pastors dangle in front of small church leaders.
Leadership in a post-Christian culture demands new ways of doing ministry. For most conventional churches there tends to be two ways to build. The first is to build excellence in the service and programs. The second is to use the same effort of excellence, but in the direction of establishing deep relationship. I’m noticing there comes a point in every community where you can’t do both. When that happens, which one will you choose?
“Great” churches are not measured in the grandeur of their services. If so, we have one of the coolest, but it wasn’t working to produce disciples. Cool in awesome bands, relevant talks, and stage presence DOES NOT LAST. They are a never-ending cycle of constant upgrades. It continuously detracts from a posture that builds churches to become participants in the unfolding mission of God in the neighborhood and city.
What should we pursue instead?
God isn’t after excellence. Our measure is faithfully joining kingdom unfolding in our place.
It’s the difference between excellence in production, and excellence in living out calling to love one another and the other. Leaders need to be ready to faithfully model incarnate presence and teach the same. We need to pursue imperfect excellence in life on life, even it comes at the cost of cancelling the beloved service.