The Mission of Church Planting

June 24, 2014

Risen Life Church is planting another church somewhere else in the Salt Lake Valley.  As of yet, we haven't determined the location because we believe our first task is to gather those God is calling for this work and faithfully prepare ourselves for his mission.  We're slowly growing into a unified team. We're starting to understand and appreciate one another's gifts, personalities, and character.  We're worshiping, studying the Bible, and growing more devoted to the fellowship.  Little by little, we're starting to reach deeper into our relationships with one another as well as the lost community around us.  Some of what we're doing actually looks like mission trips to other parts of the world because church planting is the similar mission of making disciples of Jesus. But rather than connecting the disciples to an existing church, missionaries seeking to plant churches gather them into a group who covenant together to be a new local church.  Then, God willing, this new church serves as God's agent to reach even further into the community to share and plant the gospel of Christ.

We are on a mission. 

Unlike many church planting missions to Utah, we're locals and we're planting with extremely strong support from an existing local church.  Risen Life Church provides us elder oversight and shepherding, financial support, prayer, encouragement, and many other necessary resources.  Most of our core group regularly attends serves at Risen Life, but not all.

In addition, our new church plant group (we're praying about the name) meets in my home on Monday nights, which happens to be the parsonage on the church property.  (We have an intern living in the other parsonage next door.)  As we grow, we hope to expand into more home fellowships that meet during the week for discipleship under the leadership of elder quality men (or elder quality men in training).  God willing, we'll also meet together on Sunday as a larger corporate gathering in the Risen Life Church building--in the evening until we move across the valley to another location.  At that point, we'll start meeting on Sunday mornings. 

In the meantime, it's extremely helpful to start in an incubator of sorts, which happens to be right next to an existing church.  When we need chairs, we get them from next door.  Tables for a barbecue, yup, get them from next door.  Administrative support? Yes, he works next door.  Oh, and that big parking lot is a good place to park when you come on Monday nights.  Risen Life has a basketball hoop that attracts people from the neighborhood (and it's nearby in the parking lot).  The house is large enough to host people and there's a field between the two church owned houses where our intern lead a team to build an awesome fire pit.

On Monday nights we open with a worship song and a brief discussion.  Someone reads from Scripture.  We pray together and there's a sermon.  Then we respond in worship through more singing and prayer.  And we take communion.  Someone (usually my wife) provides snacks and beverages.  We have the kids join us at first, then they're dismissed to go downstairs for a lesson on the same text that's more age appropriate.  Two adults from a rotation of volunteers (which is an area we're going in) lead the children's lesson and activity. Then they join us again for worship and prayer.

While we're presently putting heavy attention into building a core team, we are still seeking to reach the lost, although this is another area where we need lots of growth.  This is a slow process, but we're starting to connect. Many of us get together for coffee, dinners, ladies nights, and other things.  We help each other move and seek ways to serve one another.  We pray for each other often and stay in touch via text and e-mail when we're not together. We've hosted open houses and a barbecue to invite others, both believers and non-believers.

Like any mission project we have to be creative and flexible.  We've had nights where we used Google Hangouts to connect with people who were away for military duty, health reasons, or other business.  It wasn't the greatest, but it was nice to have some kind of connection with those who were away. 

We've had to try different approaches with the kids (and hopefully we've landed on something that works well).  We've tried different things with our prayer time.  Daniel Graves, our worship leader, has sought ways to improve our worship time with song and reflection.  And we've done some stuff that looks like small churches in other parts of the world.

We determined that having a fire pit might be a good, natural way to bring people together.  Who
doesn't like chatting around a fire on a late summer evening?  What family wouldn't want to have a Smores night?  So, in what looked very much like a foreign mission project, some of our guys starting clearing the spot.  They dug through the concrete-hard ground.  We cut the bottom off an old 55-gallon drum.  With some decorative bricks we found at the house the fire pit was dress up.  And, by the way, our fist fire was great fun.

The challenge, it seems, is many people naturally seek to put mission work in some kind of neat box.  It's two weeks here or there.  It's not in our every day lives.  Or if it is, it has to look very specific like some popular book-inspired method evangelism or something.  People do the same with church planting work.  Some might criticize our methods (although I've found those who do are often not making disciples or planting churches themselves.) On the other end of the spectrum, some outsiders may feel that we look too 'churchy' and suggest we should be hip and 'organic' (to use the popular buzz words). 

I wonder how much of what this little group is trying to do would happen we were just tying to be "buddies hanging out," organically?  I suspect very little.  I find myself asking lots of questions.  What would our mission look like if we didn't understand and respect the diversity of gifts and personalities within our group?  What if we relied more on what's popular rather than the will of God?  What would we look like to our own communities if we were not who we really are?  What if we tried to wrap ourselves in the newest marketing and exciting church planting buzz words, even if they didn't fit us?  I wonder, can we honor Christ in our acts of service and love that are not cool enough to be spoken about in the hot, popular conferences?  Do we have to use the exciting buzz words?  No, we really don't.  Can we be be known by how we love Jesus and each other and then seek to bring others into that kind of community?  It's my hope that this may be a way for a small group of locals to plant our church and faithfully share the gospel of Jesus in our city.

Sure, we need to grow spiritually and numerically.  We need to develop a great unity.  We need to have a passion for reaching the lost.  Yes, we'll need financial resources along the way.  But our greatest need is prayer.  We seek to be on God's mission, and that requires prayer, lots of prayer.  Another advantage of being locals supported by a local church is that we have a number of people praying for us near by.  They can put an arm around us and ask, "how can I pray for you this week?" We printed prayer cards and made them available at Risen Life Church.  These cards have a pictures of people involved with the mission to plant a church.  Each card also has specific prayer requests.  One day I noticed a couple of sweet ladies digging through the stack to be sure they had all the different cards.  They expressed that at this point in their lives they wouldn't likely leave Risen Life Church but they sure want to help us by faithfully asking God to bless our efforts, to grow us, and to protect us.   What a blessing!

We'd love to have you join our efforts, whether physically with us in Salt Lake City or in prayer.  (You can chat with me more about that here.)  Will you try to remember our mission to plant a church in Salt Lake the next time you're talking with God?

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman