Friday, September 26, 2008

Where Do You Start?

For many of us, the church is either something that has always been a part of our lives, or it's something we don't think much about. Few of us think much about how a church gets started. In most cases, it's always been there: when we were kids in Sunday School or when we were members of a youth group and benefited from the fellowship and acceptance we found there. As adults, the church has married us, helped us welcome our children into the world, and probably guided us through some less pleasant times if we have lived long enough. Whether our participation has been a foundational or an occasional part of our lives, the church has always been there.
The church I serve hasn't always been here. We are a new church, still trying to figure out who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do.
New churches are certainly not unusual in the United States. Drive through any community and you'll see signs of splits and divisions that resulted in new congregations, some that thrive, and some the nurse wounds until they die. On community near where I once lived included the following congregations, all of the same denomination: Bethel Church, Old Bethel Church, New Bethel Church, and Bethel #1. Enough said about how some churches come into being. I served as Organizing Pastor for a new congregation in Alabama before moving to Florida this summer. One of the questions I heard most often there from newcomers and people who called for information was "Who did you split from?" There, I could honestly say that it wasn't a split that led our beginning. The Presbytery planted the church in the midst of a growing community because there wasn't one of our persuasion there. It continues to grow along with that community even without me as its pastor.
The congregation I'm currently working with, Providence Presbyterian, also enjoys the sponsorship and guidance of its Presbytery, the Presbytery of St. Augustine. Planning for the congregation began when some people who were previously members of another congregation in our area approached their pastor and other leaders in the Presbytery about the possibility of beginning a new congregation in this area. After a long and more circuituous journey than that group saw coming, they called me to become their pastor this summer.
There are plenty of sources of information about how to start new churches around. New Church Development has been a popular topic in many denominations for several years. Lots of people think new churches have more likelihood of attracting new people, especially those who don't have much background in the church, than established congregations with all the things newcomers have to navigate there. There's some truth in that. But lots of new people want and expect things that new churches can't always provide, at least on a schedule that meets the needs of some of those people. Youth groups have to be gathered and nurtured. Children's activities require the presence of children and the leadership of people who love them. Sometimes people decide to go ahead and take their chances with an established congregation, or with a newer one with a little history behind it instead of waiting to see what the new congregation might become.
As helpful as all the literature out there is, the best guide we've found is God's Word that tells us all to make disciples, to teach, to baptize, and to love in Christ's name. That's what we're trying to do at Providence Church. Check in from time to time to see how it's going.

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