In my book When We Belong, I told the story of how my second church plant Cypher Church started. It was on the heels of closing my first church plant called (at the time) Converge. I saw the proverbial writing on the wall when only 5 people showed up to a Sunday service. One was late, one came for the free lunch after, and three were from my family. 

If you’ve grown up in the evangelical sphere, or have operated in church leadership at any point, then you might have a sense of how ‘success’ is measured. Converge wasn’t a failure, per se, since most of the people that came through stayed together, only in a different church expression that’s still going strong today. So in this way, Converge was a success–the relationships prevail. 

At the time I had no idea what would come next ministry wise, but months (maybe weeks?) after pulling the plug, a new idea cropped up to do a gathering for those who would otherwise never fit within even the ‘coolest’ church expression. Months after the first idea I co-planted Cypher Church.

This ‘church plant’ launched on Valentine’s Day 2017. By all traditional church measures it was an utter smash success by church standards for those who measure things. New people at a Sunday service always seem to get leaders excited. “Oh wow, we’re growing, must be doing something right,” we’d opine. What we had at Cypher was beyond that. Every single gathering for two years we had new people come through. Not only that, the church took on a real ‘early church’ vibe with wild spiritual transformations, healings, etc., going down.

How did we do it? Beats me. Christians looking for the next cool thing discovered we were TOO cool (or uncool). Our gatherings weren’t for everyone (in fact, most of the regular church crowd would never ever ever fit within the wildness we had going on.)

If you’re familiar with hip-hop culture you know what the cypher is. That’s what our worship gatherings looked liked for the first two years. When that ran its course we transitioned into a poetry/spoken word collab where folks came through to write and share. This was also a huge success.

Of course, I measure success in the small. The group never really exceeded 30 people at one time (except for that first year which was packed out every gathering). And that was OK. In fact, it was good. What we had was depth with a group of folks willing to venture in community together. It’s powerful stuff if you can capture it.

We also built our gatherings around the table. Not just the once a month ‘church’ gatherings, but meal times like brunches and BBQs.

Then the pandemic hit. 

Gathering in tight spaces with a bunch of people wasn’t hot anymore.  Eating around the table also not so hot. So we stopped gathering….for a year.

When the year had passed I was asking what many others were, how do we DO community in this pandemic age? Others were asking the same, and a relationship I had with Omar up in Edmonton (3 hrs north of Calgary) reminded me of their small community called, A Beautiful Table. They were asking similar questions and in a similar ‘deconstruction’ space that was starting to emerge from the remnants of Cypher Church. So we decided to try ‘online church’ together.

Since 2021 we have done the ‘online church’ every other week (taking summers off) which turns out–get this–is the same as church church. 

If you had asked me 15 years ago what I thought of online church I probably would’ve scoffed. “Not as good as meeting in person.” Which I suppose still applies in a sense. But there was also an ableist vibe of, only lazy people do online church. 

My oh my have times changed. Online is a crucial mechanism to keep folks through a variety of needs connected. It’s working for us and it counts as church full stop.

But gathering online hasn’t matched the old cypher ethos. In fact, it was evident from Day 1 of online that the old had passed away…. We had changed.

Unlike the classic Boyz II Men song, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye, it hasn’t been hard to acknowledge the change, the loss, the shift. The main reason is likely attributed to the people. The core remained, but all of the rest have long left our wildness. Plus, I’m used to church change (can’t say if this is a good thing though.)

It’s not sad to say goodbye to the old, rather, it’s an acknowledgement of a good change that matches our current state. (This is the part of the sermon where the pastor quotes 2 Cor. 5:17.)

So with that we say goodbye to Cypher Church. It was a splice. You were a success. I hope the folks who passed through will cherish a memory forever.

But this goodbye is a new beginning of sorts. We say goodbye to Cypher and hello to… 

A Beautiful Table!

That’s the name of that small crew we collaborated with online. Turns out we have a lot in common. So much so, the people really mesh, have similar values, and are willing to figure out what it means to ‘do’ community online and in-person where we can. The Edmonton and Calgary crew (and beyond too) have become one. Cypher Church is now A Beautiful Table. We’ve been operating this way for 2 yrs so why not give voice to the shift and carry on in new and exciting ways?

Who knows what happens next, but in this season, we acknowledge the road we’ve travelled, the way the world around us plods along, and the power of travelling that road together with like-minded folks. Change can be good.

A Beautiful Table: Online services, in-person stuff sometimes, returning Sept 24th. Message if you’d like to roll through.