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How we introduce the church to people has a lot to do with how they interpret church. We introduce the church poorly to people when we leave “church” out of our weekday conversations. We introduce the church poorly when we just tell people “how to get there” on a website. How we introduce people to the church, especially on Sundays, is important if we want to re-arrange their expectations around a gospel view of the church.

Here are a few ways we’ve done it. I’m not being dogmatic, just suggestive. I think this is important, but I also think you should introduce people both theologically and contextually. In other words, rearrange their view of the church around the gospel, but do it in language that is true to your vision and your context.

Introducing Church on Sundays

Over the past couple of years we’ve changed the way we introduce people to the church on a Sunday morning, but all in all we’ve had minor variations. We used to say stuff like:

If you’re visiting today, we’re so glad you came. We hope this is the last time you come to church, because this building isn’t the church. These people are.

Early on this certainly weeded out the consumer, but probably also ran off a few potential disciples. With time we softened our introduction to tell people that:

“The best way you can get to know the church is to visit a City Group, where the church is the church to one another and the city.”

This was more welcoming and still community affirming. It mixed more grace into the welcome. However, as we continued to reflect on this introduction, we still felt like it was, at times, intimidating for front door visitors. Why? Because we pushed City Groups so hard. You’re bound to feel out of place if you aren’t in one, especially since the majority of our church is. We wanted to relieve the person who unreligously visited out Sunday gatherings once every 4-5 weeks, while remaining true to our vision of the church.

So we went this this, roughly. People laugh every time they hear it (the bold part), but I can tell they love it. They tell me so.

Welcome to Austin City Life. My name is ____, and I am one of the Partners with our church. If you’re visiting, we’re really glad you found us. We would love to meet you, so hang around afterwards over coffee, join us for lunch, or fill out a visitor form on a lap top.

You should know up front that we are a very imperfect church. We will disappoint you, but we’ll do our best to point you to a perfect Savior. That’s the Gospel, and we believe it converts us to Christ, to Church and to Mission. It’s why we’re here, to be the church to one another and to the city. To be in the city and for the city, redemptively engaging peoples and cultures.

The best place to figure this all out is in our City Groups, gospel communities that serve one another and our city. You can check them out right here by hanging around afterward and chatting in the back, by our sign, or learn more online at austincitylife.org.

Introducing Church on Websites

Your introduction to the Church on Sundays should resonate with what you say on your website and, most importantly, your small group/missional community experience. We’ve changed our web wording to reflect our actual gathering, keeping the non-Christian in mind.

Sundays Gatherings are an important part of being the church at Austin City Life. Although we want to avoid the mistake of seeing Sunday as “the Church”, we believe it is important to gather every Sunday for worship, preaching, communion, and community.

On Sundays you’ll find an interesting juxtaposition of theological depth and cultural expression. We are in line with historic, orthodox Christianity, but express that Christian faith progressively, in a venue on Austin’s renown 6th Street.

What is Sunday Like?
We gather every Sunday at The Parish, one of the best music venues on 6th, where you’ll hear our musicians play rich, stirring, God-focused music, not as a performance but as an act of worship. You’ll also hear substantive gospel messages that regularly engage cultural issues. Best of all, you’ll get to meet a community gathered around Jesus that loves our city.

These people are like you in many ways. They are citizens, creatives, moms, dads, young marrieds, professionals, college students, and singles. They are Christian and not Christian. We are all imperfect people looking to a perfect Christ.

This certainly isn’t the last “word”, and introducing people to the church is so much more than what you say. But what you say also affects how you live.

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In case you are interested, I will be speaking at a few conferences this Fall. I’m honored to speak along the other speakers.

September 15-16: Acts 29 Bootcamp

October 9-10: LEAD ’09

November 10-11: Missional Network Gathering

North American Mission Board (NAMB) we will be hosting a Regional Missional Network Gathering on November 10-11, 2009 in Kansas City. The conference will focus on the topics of Missional Church and City Networks. It will begin on Tuesday, November 10 at 1:00pm and conclude on Wednesday, November 11 at 4:30pm. The two primary presenters will be Eric Swanson and Jonathan Dodson.

Many of us have a gnostic view of money. Church planting good; fundraising bad. Preaching great; money evil. Pastoral ministry is truly spiritual, business, finance, and administration are sub-spiritual. This is not a biblical view of the world. We were baptised into one faith and one Lord who is both Creator and Redeemer. He is lord of the physical and lord of the spiritual. To quote Rob Bell, “Everything is spiritual for God.” Gnosticism is a dualistic philosophy that exalts the spiritual over the physical, the eternal over the ephemeral. The recent issue of Cutting Edge contains a series of article that address Church Planting and Money. The opening editorial reads:

ONE OF THE OLDEST ERRORS IN THE CHURCH IS FALSE DUALISM, PITTING “SPIRITUAL” REALITIES AGAINST MERE “EARTHLY” REALITY. IN THIS VIEW, PRAYER, BIBLE STUDY, AND CHURCH SERVICES ARE TRULY SPIRITUAL AND WORTHWHILE PURSUITS, WHILE DEALING WITH MONEY, ADMINISTRATION, OR LEGAL MATTERS ARE SEEN AS UNFORTUNATE REQUIREMENTS—DUTIES AT BEST, AND CORRUPTION AT WORST. WHILE YOU RARELY HEAR A PASTOR SAY “I HATE DEALING WITH PEOPLE’S PRAYER LIVES” OR “I HATE TEACHING THE BIBLE,” IT ISN’T UNCOMMON TO HEAR SOMEONE SAY “I HATE DEALING WITH MONEY” OR “I HATE ADMINISTRATIVE DETAILS. (p.3)

Some of us need to repent of our dualism, of seeing God as sovereign and concerned only with our piety and not with our pocketbook. Some of us need to redeem our view of money with an understanding that the Gospel redeems consumers to spend, not just “spiritually” but practically. Our money should be governed by the gospel and move towards mission. But that is uncomfortable. We would rather live with the comforts of unspiritual spending, than invest our whole lives into the mission of God. Our idols of comfort, clothing, and standard of living hide beneath our functional gnosticism. God is calling us to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord over our entire lives, finances included, to bring us into a life of joyful giving and worship.

As I write this, Austin City Life is approximately 55% self-supporting, and our outside support is in decline. We have had public church gatherings for just over a year, though we existed in decentralized form for a year prior. We are experiencing gospel renewal, radical community, and growing mission. But is Jesus Lord of our finances, our budget, our discretionary income, our savings? We need to consult our hearts and our spending patterns to find out who really is lord of this part of our lives.  We also need more financial support, to be a community that loves with our giving and not just with our being.

Pray. Repent. Give. Love. And enter into the joy of obedience to Jesus as Lord, and of full participation in his mission. For Jesus, everything is spiritual and nothing is gnostic.

Robie provides a stirring reminder of the humanity of church planting, especially for planter’s wives.

Okay. This issue of Cutting Edge is excellent. Every article is worth reading, which is rare for any publication. Here is the list. Here is the online pdf of the mag.

  • Process Managing Church Growth, Tim Keller
  • Small Group Strategy, Jim Egli
  • Sound Strategy: a few hints from an audio professional about your sound ministry, Lightning Atkinson (yep, Lightning)
  • Strategizing for Diversity, interview
  • Strategic Preaching, John Elmer
  • Getting a Building
  • Web Strategies for Church Planters

I will be out for the next four days in Vail, CO at the Acts 29 Pastors and Wives Retreat for some overdue time of refreshment and relaxation. Acts 29 is so cool–they are paying for all the expenses except airfare! We really anticipate whats in store, spiritually, relationally, culturally and so on. Probably grab a couple Flying Dog ales…last time I was in Vail they were pretty good. Wish you were there…well, no I don’t, just me and my wife! 🙂

Occasionally I am asked how to prepare a church planting proposal or prospectus. In this post, I want to tell you not to write a church planting proposal. Some of you may feel excited about planting a church, about making an impact in a city or community. Perhaps you have some friends who are excited with you, ready to risk all possessions and security for the sake of Christ. You have been talking with some guys about what the church would look like, where it would be, what kind of theology it will espouse. You envision a tight, missional community. You have some of your pastoral team picked out. Your dreams are starting to get onto paper.

St Augustine experienced a similar thing. He discussed and deliberated over the troubles of life with his friends. A group of them decided that they would form a community. This community would share possessions and would be significantly funded by Romanianus. They selected two officers and were ready to initiate this new community, and then they considered their wives. Augustine writes: “As a result, the whole project, which we had worked out so well, collapsed in our hands; it was completely broken up and thrown aside.” (Confessions, VI.14)

Some of you need to consider your wives as you consider church planting. Your calling is to your household first (1 Tim 3:4-5; 5:8). If your wife is not ready for church planting, you are not ready for church planting. Honestly explore any reservations your wife may have about your vision, your dream. Submit to her in love and listen closely to God. Some wives, however, will approve of your vision to plant a church but not have a clue what it really takes. Just because you have spousal support doesn’t mean that God has called you to plant a church. Like Augustine, you may already have your prospectus but you have neglected your wife, the Church, or God in honestly discerning a call to plant. Save yourself some serious heartache and converse deeply with your wife, speak honestly with the church, especially a group of men who can wisely assess you for gifting and calling to church planting. And don’t project your pipe dreams onto God.

Even if you are not called to plant, your preparations do not have to be in vain. Like Augustine, you can respond to this realization by resting in Proverbs 19:21 “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.” Don’t cling to your plans; cling to Christ. Cherish the perfect counsel of the Lord, which may be discerned through spouses, assessors, blog posts, circumstances, failure, or private encounters with the Lord. In doing so, you will position yourself for greater joy and purpose in the kingdom of God. Like Augustine, you will be able to conclude: “Out of that counsel you derided our plans and you prepared your own, according to which you were to give us meat in due season, and to open your hand and fill our souls with blessing.” Heed the counsel of the Lord; put down your church planting proposal and receive the meaty blessing God has for you.

Still….

Joe Thorn has posted on his metaphors for missional community. Using a Circle, Inverted Triangle, and a Square, he describes the three areas of church ministry as:

  • The Table – domestic ministry
  • The Pulpit -liturgic ministry
  • The Square – civic ministry (HT:SM)

Kevin Rush has formulated a similar paradigm using the metaphors of Towel, Table, & Text:

  • The Table
  • The Text
  • The Towel

I use the metaphor of a house with it’s respective entrances to designate pathways in and out of the community of faith:

  • Side Door – gospel motivated relationships
  • Front Door -gospel messages from the pulpit
  • Front Yard -gospel activity in the city