An intuitive introverts guide to starting a church
I feel like I did when I was a teenager going on a date. 35 years later I’m no longer pacing the room but I am feeling very nervous and finding sleep difficult. This time it’s not a girl but a church that’s keeping my mind so active. The soon-to-begin Urban Seed:church, set in downtown Melbourne, Australia.
Twelve years ago I started working with a dieing congregation in Auckland city, New Zealand. Last year I transitioned out of that now stable, strong church (www.cityside.org.nz) and moved countries to work with an inner city mission organization, Urban Seed (www.urbanseed.org).
Urban Seed is a wonderful organization, with outstanding staff, who have been working with marginalised people for more than a decade. It has a strong community ethos and a clear mission focus. What it lacks is a focus on spiritual formation and discipleship. It has no easily accessible worship event or gathered community of faith for either it’s staff, for others who identify with Urban Seed, or for people Urban Seed forms relationships with who are looking to make changes in their life.
Starting one seemed like a good idea – until now! How do you ‘start a church’? I have no idea. Cityside had an existing building, congregation (albeit very small and struggling), and access to funds to employ me full time, at least initially. Urban Seed church has no building to meet in, no funds, and no ready made congregation. So how to begin?
I’ve been talking about the concept to people in and around Urban Seed for almost a year, so the decision to do something in May is no surprise. Through that time I have been discovering people who were post-church and interested in exploring something new. A few staff are interested. I’ve been talking with those people about what I have in mind for the ethos and practice of this new church. Refining and rewriting the proposal. Visiting post-church people who might be open to something different to their previous experiences of church. My best find is Marcus, one of Urban Seed’s Education Team. He has good skills in preaching and teaching and is keen to work with me in shaping up and delivering this new venture.
We trialed a few special services in Advent last year and Lent and Easter this year to build up some expectation and to get a feel for who might be interested in joining us. Around 30 adults and a few children showed up after minimal advertising, so we may have a quorum. Since Easter I’ve been working up an order of service and basic outline of the philosophy that we will start with. I want this community of faith to build on what I have learnt from 12 years at Cityside, so it won’t be much like any other church that people have experienced and that isn’t easy to communicate quickly. I don’t have the luxury of a slow build of the ethos that I had at Cityside. Here we need to have it pretty clear from the start and be able to communicate its subtleties – as well as practice them! I’m uncomfortable with a clear plan as I want what we do to reflect the community we gather. So there won’t be one.
Alongside these preparations there have been ongoing discussions with the parent church of Urban Seed. These have been prolonged and quite difficult at times. This well established church that is proud of its traditions and traditional forms has concerns about Urban Seed:church affecting what they offer. They have stated clearly that they would like us to meet well away from the time and location of their services. In the end we can only do the latter, but they have generously still blessed our proposal.
We plan to meet at 5.30pm – it suits families and means we can go out to eat after if we want to – on a Sunday. The venue – at least initially – will be in the Mission to Seamen building at the other end of town in a developing area. Not ideal but pretty good. Our intention is to start by gathering just the six or eight people who have indicated a strong interest in the church and meet with them for a few weeks while we shake down the order of service and some of the ethos, before opening up to all comers. May 8 is opening night! There is still a lot of work to do and I have opening night jitters.
Mark Pierson is Executive Director of Urban Seed. He is also co-author with Mike Riddell and Cathy Kirkpatrick of the SPCK book & CD-Rom, ‘The Prodigal Project’ and collator of the CDROM project‘Fractals: alternative worship resources for the emerging church’.