Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The initial questions

I am going to visit this weekend with a group in another city interested in forming a new Unitarian Universalist church. I have done this a lot over the years in this general area and mostly now I regret, in hindsight, the advice I've given. In fact a couple of years ago I gave a talk about Growth called "Unlearning Church" (title from Michael Slaughter's book) as a way of kind of repenting of how I had "helped" groups in the past. That's because mostly I focused on the how and the organizational ways to get up and going and growing; mostly I focused with them on "how to grow A church" instead of how to begin in their area a growing movement of churches, a church that will have as its ultimate measure of success how many and how often and how soon and how diverse from itself can be the churches its starts, and how deeply it can affect lives and its community, making disciples of love and justice.

Some of the questions I mistakenly dealt with were: Should we get a minister first or a building? Should we advertise, and where? How many members does it take to be official, and how do we get them and keep them?

These days I do it a little differently. For example, here is the outline I am working on for this weekend's visit.

Hymn Sing: A Church Planting Narrative in Song
We start by singing together, a community act, something that builds spirit and exposes vulnerability. All movements should sing or die. And this arrangement of hymns from the Singing The Living Tradition hymnal moves from welcome, to personal centering, to community centering, to mission, to disappointment, to deeper community, to hope.

188—Come, Come, whoever you are
389—Gathered Here
123—Spirit of Life
131—Love Will Guide Us
121—We’ll Build A Land
168—One More Step
352—Find A Stillness
205—Amazing Grace
116—I’m On My Way

And then these are the questions that I think now we need to grapple with as we begin our efforts--

A Few of the Initial Questions For Church Planting

What is your "default mode" for “church”? What mental image comes to your mind? Why? What mental images might come to the mind of someone different from you who doesn’t go to church? How limiting is our own perspective?

What has to exist for a church to exist? Hint: The church doesn't have a mission; the mission has a church. And the church is more than the contemporary congregation of bodies who have the power to vote. More on this in a later post, in particular reference to Conrad Wright's writings.

How many UU churches do you want in your area? One church in one way in one geographical area is a warning sign of impending death. Like so many of the usual questions, when we think about starting "A" church, this turns into starting a church for me and my wants and my tastes and my needs. Like the previous question, the answer to this question determines our DNA and how healthy we will grow.

How will you determine and protect and spread your “DNA”, your Mission, Vision, and Values? Will a committee decide it? Or will someone or some two people who have a gift and finger on the pulse of both the forming church and the Church Universal and the free church tradition within it, be moved to help name it? How will these days determine how much of a permission-giving church culture there will be? Will it be a mission statement or a song in the heart, a story? What will be your creation story? Can you sum up your aims in less than 8 syllables? Will you be able to say that while you welcome all, you won't and can't be "for" all, in the sense that you won't be the right church for all looking for a church? Trying for one group to be all things for all people is a recipe for discord and death. And will you have the guts to create a safe place to take risks? To say no to unhealthy behaviors? New churches often are magnets for people who have not found a home for their behaviors in other churches and seek out the new, needy, church plants as vulnerable places--just as new churches will be magnets for those healthy people who have left for good reasons unhealthy churches. How will your leadership circle become an accountability group to keep on track with the MVV?

Which model of church planting will you use, and why?
Don't rush into assuming only one model. Know the strengths and weaknesses of each model. In the UUA report on Pathways Church in Dallas/Fort Worth area, several of these models were listed. The report itself is good for conversation and I will pick up on it in a later thread. You can read it at http://www.uua.org/TRUS/apr06/B3a-pathways.pdf. The main models listed in the report are:
Pioneer/Parachute: Starting from scratch in a new location or for new group
Adopting/Affiliation: Embracing groups who approach the denomination
Propagating: Multiplying network of cell groups: 12x12
Daughtering: Halving off a core group from a parent church
Satellite: an existing church starts an off-site worship
Partnering: A cooperative venture between several churches
Mission developer: A developer goes into an area and starts congregations
Transplanting: Selling and relocating a church to begin a new church
Nesting: Hosting a congregation within an existing congregation
Restart: Take over a new church and start in the same site with new leadership
Conference/District/National start: begins with initiative from outside target area

Under the propagating model there are many varieties, it should be said.

I will say that underlying some issues about what kind of church people want to start are some issues of class and acceptance (a church should look and act like other churches so my neighbors won't judge me, e.g. and "be respectful") and these should be acknowledged and addressed up front. Get a control on them so they don't control the church.

One of the key questions is also about the relationship of a church planting team and a minister? Is any seminary trained person capable of being a church planter? No. Especially since so many progressive seminaries don't pay attention to church planting. The ordained will have some skills that non-ordained don't but they will sometimes lack key skills that others in the group might have or need to find. Granting lots of responsibility and authority to those with gifts for different facets will be key. There are advantages to having a strong presence of a church planter and leadership team right from the start, but the strong presence of clergy can also help create clergy-focus instead of mission-focus and kill the plant. If the minister isn't a strong DNA-setting church planter, with lots of authority granted by the team, the best connection might be in the form of coaching or mentoring or assuming certain functions, like spiritual director to the leadership team, while the team continues to develop and deepen and be the more visible leadership face.

A Few of the Initial Tips For Church Planting

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First---planters, lay and clergy, should have their emotional, spiritual, physical house in order before starting on this major undertaking, even moreso I think than in other ministry positions with existing churches. Perfect never exists so don't strive for it, but don't be under major stress and transitions. If you have to turn more and more inward for your own health, it will create inward-turning as a norm of the church.

Do Everything As A Team of Two or More--Actually two is a very good number to take on whatever tasks there are, but one isn't. Sets a bad precedent, and even if there is one person with the passion and skills that you want to encourage to turn loose in permission-giving culture, a partner to check in with and meet with and turn to is still going to help prevent burnout and going beyond value boundaries.

Know Yourself and Others on The Team---encourage all church planters/teams to do Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, conflict styles profiling. Share results. Test them out by experiencing something together as a team and reflecting on it.

Practice Embracing Healthy Conflict and Small Group Dynamics--This comes with knowing yourself and others and you can use the differences in temperament and style to talk about how that leads us to need guidelines for how to interact with one another (use I statements, etc.) and setting behavior boundaries. Along with this as a leadership team building I would right away get the group reading and reflecting on the book Friedman's Fables and the principles in Generation to Generation, family systems theory.

Know Your Community and Let Your Community Know You--obviously getting a Precept psychographic study of the area, as well as talking with people about the biggest needs of the area, know its history, its players, and who all aren't going to church already and why. Then engage in servant evangelism (www.kindness.com) and random acts of kindness and look for ways your group can find a niche of addressing those needs. I would rather people first encounter the church plant out in the world doing things rather than trying to get people "into the church" to become a part of it. I will post more about the role of worship in mission and church plants, but the first place people get to know you will also set your DNA and your future. Those who join from seeing you in mission are more apt to help keep that mission and sense of the church outside itself going. Energy needs to be directed there, moreso than what happens when people gather for worship, which is why worship needs to be understood differently and, as it is commonly conceived, delayed as much as possible. Question that comes from a newcomer after visiting with a church planter during a mission project or party or just a good conversation: When does your church meet? Answer: It just did.

Learn From Others/Be Coached so you can Coach. Go to boot camp somehow if possible. At least immerse in online communities, visiting church starts, bringing in church planters, read through a book together on planting and emerging church.

Some general places to begin:
Build Personal Relationships and tap into your extended field of family and friends. Invite them to be with you and your group as it---
Parties. Takes trips. Shares spiritual passions. Studies. Sings. Cares for one another. Does acts of kindness for strangers. Covenants and Celebrates to keep the spirit of community alive and growing. (if you have to feel like you are doing something "worshippy" do it as a small group event for those already a part of you, to celebrate what and why you are doing what you are doing, get your main morale boosts in other ways, but keep worship informal at this stage; same goes for bylaws. Just do articles of incorporation for non-profit status and setting up bank account; if for some reason you need bylaws keep them very vague and flexible at this stage; you don't want to have to revise them, spend energy on them, refer to them, or else DNA will be organizational instead of organic, maintenance instead of mission.)

Make sure that topics of buildings, budgets, bylaws, and staff, all the structural stuff, comes along to support the Spirit and Mission, not the other way around. Don’t rush. Keep anxiety out of your system. Laugh lots. Beware premature birth, burnout, controlling, too much focus on “us”, perfectionism, and the "failure to experiment, risk, and fail."