This past Sunday, the weather report for New York City was 1° with a wind chill of -19°. The mayor was urging people to stay home and church members were calling to ask if we were canceling.
But church planters don’t cancel worship gatherings.
I’ve experienced Sundays when my wife and kids outnumbered everyone else. Even if only a handful of people could come we planned on proceeding with our service. We aren’t about to let a little frostbite stop us!
The good news is more people came than we expected. And due to a last minute idea, we ended up streaming our service online for free and several members were able to jump online and watch.
All I had to do was put my mobile phone on a tripod, make sure I had a strong wifi signal, open the Facebook app and start broadcasting live. It really was that easy and within seconds we noticed that not only were our absent members online and engaging with us virtually, but their friends and people around the world began tuning in as well.
In the Book of Acts, planting churches in unreached areas was the natural application of the Great Commission.
In fact, the logical implication of the Great Commission is that it would be done in the context of the local church wherever it exists and that it would lead to establishing local churches where they don’t exist. Baptism isn’t something that is done isolated from Body life. It is the initiatory rite of a new disciple into the church. Naturally, if a church doesn’t exist and we are pursuing the disciple-making mission, a church needs to be established or we aren’t being faithful to Jesus’ commands. The New Testament knows nothing of a lone ranger evangelist who saves souls and moves on. The church is where disciples are baptized and taught.
This was the approach the apostles took when they were empowered by the Spirit. They established a church in Jerusalem. Then, when the persecution arose against them and many were forced out of Jerusalem, they began making disciples and establishing churches everywhere they went in Judea and in Samaria. Soon, churches were established as far out as Antioch which was a Gentile city. They were fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to be witnesses and to make disciples.
I’ve never been able to remember what an “Ebenezer” is. It always bothered me when a song leader would say something about “raising an Ebenezer” in the middle of a worship set and confuse 90% of the congregation (much less the outsiders who are visiting that day).
I don’t think I’ll ever forget what Ebenezer means again.
Samuel and Ebenezer
I want to briefly share two stories. One is a recent experience of God’s faithfulness to us and one is a story of God’s faithfulness to a group of Israelites who were huddling together in fear in a town called Mizpah nearly 3,000 years ago.
With the threat of attack by the Philistine’s, Samuel the prophet reminded the Israelites to abandon their worship of other gods and to worship and serve the One True God.
Starting a church is like starting a business.
The only difference is that in this “business” the “business partners” won’t be getting a financial return; the “employees” pay (tithe) the company for the privilege of working for free; “customers” are asked to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus; and the “product” is a message that is offensive to 90% of the people who hear it.
That’s why I’ve come to a few conclusions about what it takes to start a church:
- It takes an act of God to start a church.
- That act of God always involves the people of God.
- It’s up to God to get the right people in the right places at the right time.
- God mobilizes some people to go down into the mine and some people to hold the ropes.
An Act of God
Our journey to start churches in New York City proves that it takes an act of God to start a church.
If you are involved in church planting and have never heard of Seth Godin, you need to pay attention.
Seth writes mostly about new marketing but I think you’ll find his ideas are refreshingly compatible with Biblically healthy church practices.
This morning I ran across a post Seth wrote a couple of years ago called First, ten. Check it out and let me know in the comments how his marketing “secret” applies to church planters and leaders:
This, in two words, is the secret of the new marketing.
Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you…
Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.
If they don’t love it, you need a new product. Start over.
Your idea spreads.
This is just a quick update to let you know that my family has arrived in Queens and we are settling into a temporary residence while we look for an apartment. God has provided for our immediate financial needs and lots of helpers for the move. Our hope is to find an apartment somewhere in the Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Bayside, or Whitestone neighborhoods.
The goal is to make disciples and plant churches in the heart of Queens, NY. We will eventually be working with the North American Mission Board. For now, we are just getting used to the idea that we are now New Yorkers.
Today is my first opportunity to sit down and get organized.
Here are my goals for the week:
- See as many apartments as possible until we find the right one for our family and our ministry;
- Send an email update to our prayer partners with more details about our church planting and disciple making activity in Queens and our prayer requests;
- Touch base with our ministry contacts in NYC to begin the commissioning process with NAMB;
- Get a NYC driver’s license and health insurance;
- Eat lots of New York pizza and bagels.