Church Plants, Concerts & Crowds

I have a friend who is a great musician.  I love hearing his music – I can’t hit play quickly enough when he posts a new YouTube video of his latest experiment.  I’ve been to a couple of his shows, but then one day he carefully said, “It’s been so awesome to have you at my shows. You know…it’s okay if you don’t come anymore.”  You are probably wondering what grievous error I committed – was I too old for the venue?  Did I try to sing along and ruin the mood?  Did I mosh when I should have waved my cell phone?

It’s not because I embarrassed him (I hope), but it’s because he is a disciplined and honest musician with a plan to grow his fan base beyond his friends.  He suggested I stay away because he knew if he kept filling small cafés and pubs with friends, there’d be no room for the venue’s regulars and walk-in traffic, and no way for them to become fans and evangelists for his music.  I respect him for that, even though it means I can only enjoy his latest work through YouTube while he plays for strangers.

I know of too many church planters who fill a room with Christian friends, even fellow planters, and report their “growing” community is a raging success.  The strategy is often to get a critical mass of people in the room, in hopes that visitors will perceive a growing, vibrant community before it really is one.  I believe, from observation and personal experience, that this is a sign that a church plant has rented a room for the familiar and comfortable act of worship much too early.

Why is this a problem?   Followers of Jesus are experienced worshippers, who speak, move and respond in ways a novice would not.  When the majority of those in the room are imported from other communities, any pretence of missional and contextual ministry quickly disappears in favour of familiar forms of church, as all but the most exceptional of our supposed guests of honour find themselves excluded.

rcxltfrontChristians leaders are critical to doing this work, but as those who are committed to serving sacrificially.  With reconnect, launch team members were asked for a high commitment including starting, serving, sharing, and staying.  When Christians attend for other reasons, their expectations for teaching, pastoral care and programming at the level to which they’re accustomed will quickly outclass the needs of any novice or potential followers of Jesus.  A church plant that begins with worship very often draws the disaffected from other churches, rather than helping them work through the frustrations of Christian community.  Few planters will turn such people away, knowing they need to feed their new service with givers, volunteers and easy growth.  Worship attendance is a common, but poor substitute for the kind of daily, ongoing, transformative discipleship that we find in scripture and the early church, and that takes time and focus.  A plant that skips these risky, messy, difficult early steps hasn’t had the opportunity to grow steadily and sustainably by making new followers of Jesus – it’s been given a bucket of Red Bull, and although it’s exciting, an artificial high always wears off in due course.

In musician’s terms, the fan base isn’t growing.  Friends have filled the room, but they already own the album, all want to hang with the artist afterwards, and the musician goes home with a temporary ego boost but no sales.  It’s one thing to invite friends to a special occasion in a larger venue, or to a living room jam session, but this just isn’t a sustainable practice for weekly or monthly gigs – and the same goes for worship services.

So if you’re one of those generous and kind friends who has said, “Let me know when you start services, I’ll come and support you” what I need most are your prayers and encouragement, and for some of you, your offers to join our team and do whatever it takes to serve and disciple others.  We also need your shares, likes and plain English comments on social media, introductions to local friends, and financial support.  Oh, and we need your patience in waiting for that special celebration when our new disciples fill a room and we need a little extra help, or simply want to celebrate the gifts and contributions of our supporters.  Our dream is to focus on the beautiful music of making disciples, enough of them to fill a room all on their own, before we ever rent one to fill for worship.

April Update for Redeemer, Ajax

Redeem the Commute continues to grow, in many exciting ways!

Are you “interested people”?

1054745_bricks_1I’ve been reflecting on a chance encounter with some local church members.  When they asked what Redeemer, Ajax was all about, I shared the 30-second vision.  They said, with the best of intentions, “Call us when you have bricks and mortar – we’ll be interested then.”  I shared with them that we need lots of interested people long before there are ever bricks and mortar – in fact, interested people are the bricks and mortar!

Are you “interested people”?  Will you help build something with great potential to make disciples, even if they don’t yet gather in one place at one time?  This is the kind of gathering together that Paul describes when he writes to the Christians in Epehsus, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”   Ephesians 2:19-22

Please continue to pray that God is using Redeem the Commute to help people under stress, and that we will not be strangers for long, but that he will gather us together in his time.  If you hear God calling you to be involved in building this new community online and in person, i.e. if you are his bricks and mortar, please get in touch.

We need all “interested people” – those with gifts to lead small groups, lead worship music, as well as those gifted in sound technology, projection technology, hospitality, social media, communications and more.

We also need financial gifts – that can enable us to help more marriages, families and individuals, as we learn, grow and explore deep questions of life.  Please consider making a regular gift to Redeem the Commute here.

Our Team is Growing

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New Videographer

David is Redeem the Commute’s videographer.  From his background in youth ministry, he brings experience in blending Christian ministry and the creative arts, and with experience in sound production he brings a technical background that is improving our video production values every week.

Report from the Durham Baby & Kids Show

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We had a great time at The Baby & Kid Show.   Thanks to our volunteers, Alyssa and Jane, for helping to staff the booth.  I know my time there meeting people was equally exhausting and exciting all at the same time. We gained new users and interest, and several other vendors agreed to hand out cards at their businesses and daycares. We gave out hundreds of cards and enjoyed getting to know those who paused at our booth to watch a clip of the parenting course, sign up for our mailing list or ask questions.   I trust God will use those efforts to touch people’s lives.

Congratulations to Daniela, who stopped by our booth and won a parenting book for her efforts!

We are Hosting a Live Parenting Course in May

We are offering a live, in-person version of the Parenting Children Course, also available online.  It is facilitated by Ryan, but each session consists of video from experts in parenting, and discussion with other parents.  This course is relaxed and informal and there is always plenty of laughter.  It’s hosted at All Saints Church in Whitby, starting May 6th, for five weeks excluding Victoria Day.  Find more information or please register here and please share with local families.

What else is new?

This past month has been busy!  With David improving the quality of our daily challenge videos, Ryan has had more time to improve the actual content of our daily challenges, our social media presence, and updates to our course offerings are coming soon.  Ryan will also be attending an upcoming conference, speaking at the Synod of the Diocese of Nova Scotia & PEI, and various local events.

 

Redeemer Ajax February Update

Here’s the latest news from Redeem the Commute

What’s New

We launched Redeem the Commute in early November, and we have seen it making a positive impact already.

We’ve now hit 600 installations of the mobile app on iPhone/iPad/Android devices, and over 150 unique users in the last week alone!  Yes, we doubled our numbers in the last month with our media coverage on CBC, The Anglican Planet, Alpha Canada and more.  We have great numbers, and are learning to interpret them through a lens similar to the Parable of the Sower – some will use the app once or twice, some will use it regularly, and some will begin to form a community of people learning to follow Jesus.  We keep our eyes focused on this last group, knowing that God will touch all sorts of other lives as well.

Earlier this month, Ryan spoke at an Ajax/Pickering Unity Service and presented Redeem the Commute as a tool for those participating in the excellent “Every Street a Light” initiative.  In upcoming events, Ryan will be preaching on discipleship at St. James Cathedral, Toronto, at evensong on March 17th.

We are particularly excited to be attending the Durham Baby & Kid Show, with 2500 visitors from our local area, all focused on young children.  We’ll have cards in lootbags sharing The Parenting Children Course as a resource for young commuting parents and are gathering a team of volunteers to staff a booth, hand out cards and talk about what we do.  Would you be willing to help on April 6th or 7th in Oshawa?  Contact Ryan Sim ASAP.

Ways you can help:

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Thank you for being a friend of Redeemer Church, Ajax and the Redeem the Commute community!  We need your help to continue growing into a vibrant church community.

In addition to your prayers and participation, would you consider giving thanks with a financial gift?  We are growing fast, and as we grow, our expenses rise.  Your gift can enable us to help more marriages, families and individuals, as we learn, grow and explore deep questions of life.

Please consider making a regular gift to Redeemer Church, and this important ministry to commuters.  Our denomination handles our donations using the form here.  Your charitable receipt will come from The Anglican Diocese of Toronto.

If you have any questions about our stewardship of your generous gift, please contact Ryan Sim.

We also need our friends and partners to do the following:

  • Use Redeem the Commute regularly, and help to foster discussion by leaving comments at least once a week
  • Share Redeem the Commute with friends, neighbours, family, co-workers – anyone!  We even have postcards, if you can give some out at home, work, on the train, or the Baby & Kid Show!
  • Introduce me to potential team members – particularly those who can host others in discussion, and help us prepare for public worship gatherings.
  • Pray for people using the app, that they will find help, community and the gospel.  Pray for people of peace in the area who will support this challenging work.  Pray for my family and I, as we learn first hand the stresses of suburban life.

 

January 2013 Update

The last few months have been so busy, I haven’t reported much to you, our community of supporters.  Thank you for your support, all the same!  Here’s the latest.

What’s New

We launched Redeem the Commute in early November, and we have seen it making a positive impact already.

For example, this week we reached 350 installations of the mobile app on iPhone/iPad/Android devices.  It will take time to interpret our detailed metrics on daily usage of the app, as well as usage of the mobile web site and social media, but from the big picture summary numbers we have, it’s apparent a good number of people are following our life courses and daily challenges each week.

My work right now is focused on:

  • Advertising the app via Facebook and print ads focused on each course, new years resolutions, and next, the busy commuting lifestyle.
  • Connecting with users to encourage deeper engagement and community building
  • Seeking potential team members and partners in ministry
  • Developing daily content, finishing our current course offerings, and considering new courses for the future

Redeem the Commute has also been profiled in a few different outlets: ChurchNext, Darryl Dash’s blog, The Anglican, Fresh Expressions, and more.

The road ahead

stepsWe are in the early stages.  We have a long road ahead of us, that began here with life courses that we trust will serve needs and introduce discipleship to busy commuters.  We trust that we will pass new milestones along that road, including:

  • Commitment: That users will engage with our content regularly, not just once or twice.
  • Groups: Formation of small groups, as people share and discuss our content with friends and family.
  • Trust: That over time users and groups will register for accounts, discuss online, and introduce themselves to the wider community.
  • Celebration: That this scattered community will grow, and begin to gather together regularly as one.

Please help!

helpWe need our friends and partners to do the following:

  • Use Redeem the Commute regularly, and help to foster discussion by leaving comments at least once a week
  • Share Redeem the Commute with friends, neighbours, family, co-workers – anyone!  We even have postcards, if you can give some out!
  • Introduce me to potential team members – particularly those who can host others in discussion, help us prepare for public worship gatherings, or help produce quality video content.
  • Pray for people using the app, that they will find help, community and the gospel.  Pray for people of peace in the area who will support this challenging work.  Pray for my family and I, as we adapt to a completely new way of life, and a new vision of Christian community.

August 2012 Update

August has been a busy month in the development of Redeemer Church and Redeem the Commute!  Now that we’re on the ground in Ajax, we’ve been getting settled, meeting neighbours and potential partners, and preparing to launch Redeem the Commute in just one month.

Milestones:

  • Finalized our contract with Alpha / Relationship Central permitting our use of their Marriage Course, and the Parenting Children and Parenting Teenagers Course.
  • Spoke at Westney Heights Baptist Church in Ajax to share our vision for Redeem the Commute and develop partnerships.  Upcoming visits to St. George’s Pickering Village and Crossroads Community Church.
  • Ordered advertising postcards for handing out to commuters, and requested permission from GO Transit to use their property.
  • Most importantly, our app is fully developed and submitted to Apple and Android for approval.  all goes well, we will be on track to launch September 24th!

How you can help us launch on September 24th:

  • Everyone: Share a Redeem the Commute postcard with friends and neighbours on September 24th.  Just tell me how many you’d like, and where to mail or deliver them!
  • Everyone: Help hand out postcards from 7-9am on September 24th or October 1st
  • Everyone: Offer your time as a group host. Starting this fall, we need people who will engage with our daily online content and make themselves available once a week for their fellow commuters, friends, neighbours and colleagues to find and meet with on a train, bus, carpool, neighbourhood, workplace, coffee shop, or wherever you like!  I’ll offer you pre-launch training (for Fall 2012), leadership coaching, and regular visits.  We will not ask you to leave your home church, but want you to remain committed there, while serving as a host for at least a year.

    More Info or Contact Ryan about being a host.

 

  • Pastors: Provide Redeem the Commute postcards for your members to share with friends and neighbours.  Just let me how many you’d like and I’ll deliver.
  • Pastors: I am happy to come and speak to your congregation or leadership team about our vision, and to ask for your prayer support and assistance in getting the word out.

And please pray for our family, those discerning joining us as hosts, and those who will see and respond to Redeem the Commute.

 

July 2012 Update

First, thank you for your continued support as we plant Redeemer Church in Ajax.

Moving Into The Neighbourhood

We’ve finally moved to a great new neighbourhood in Ajax – please pray for opportunities to build relationships with our neighbours, other churches and potential team members.  The challenge of planting a church in a bedroom community is more apparent and daunting than ever as I observe the empty streets in daytime, and busy homes in the evening.

You can help by praying for open doors, common ground, and good conversations.

You can also help by introducing us to anyone you know in Durham Region.

Redeem the Commute

Development of Redeem the Commute’s video and audio content, web site and mobile app is taken on a frenzied pace, and we are on track for a September 24th launch.  I am learning a lot, and am pleased with how things are shaping up.

Group Hosts

We are looking for group hosts, especially commuters, with small group hosting skills:

  • Hospitable followers of Jesus who use our content, and make themselves available in a certain timeslot each week on the train, bus, or elsewhere for discussion of prepared questions.  We want some groups “seeded” and ready for launch in September.  No guarantees – some group offerings will attract members, some won’t, depending on particular times & locations.
  • A host’s first instinct shouldn’t be to invite a new participant to attend their own church, but to walk with participants as they grow in discipleship, and ultimately rejoice with those who form a new church in September 2013.
  • A host should commit to this for at least a year (Sept. 2012-Sept. 2013), while remaining active in their home church, with no obligation to attend public worship with Redeemer in September 2013.
  • If this sounds like you or someone in your church, please connect with me!

New Partnerships

  • We are pleased to announce our partnership with Relationship Central (Alpha) Canada!  This fall we will be launching Redeem the Commute with mobile, daily versions of the Marriage Course and two Parenting Courses!
  • Through our partnership with St. Paul’s Bloor Street we’ll be launching with a mobile, daily version of the Christianity 101 course I taught while on staff there.
  • I have been or will be speaking at some churches in Ajax and the GTA this summer and fall, to share our vision, get help in spreading the word, and connect with potential group hosts.  Thanks to those who’ve invited me!

Thanks for your support and prayer!

I Get It Now!

While I’ve been “between churches” I’ve had the joy, and apparently challenge, of simply attending church on Sundays with Kristin and Elliot, without an up front role.

Each Sunday we’ve attended a different church and/or service, and for a family with a baby, each has presented a different challenge. Juggling naptimes, driving time, snacks, bottles and lunch takes some planning, patience and sometimes explodes in a mess of Cheerios, milk and tears.

One Sunday I finally blurted out, “I get it, now!” I finally get why so many young families find it so much easier to stay home on a Sunday morning. It’s not easy.

Now, before everyone tells me about the people who do, or how families managed in the past, I return to the topic of priorities. When people are already followers of Jesus, or even culturally Christian, church attendance naturally ends up higher in the priority listing. Today, these are exceptional people, whose numbers are shrinking.

As cultural Christianity dies, those with a tenuous connection to church can count several, maybe dozens, of priorities that take precedence over church. One of these is the promise of a peaceful, restful morning with the kids once a week – usually Sundays, because careers, commutes, fitness, children’s activities all make the list as well. The idea of packing the kids off to church, putting them in childcare (again) or trying to keep them quiet, is a low priority, if at all.

My family is obviously willing to make it work – we are followers of Jesus with a certain set of priorities. But we cannot forget – that encounter with Jesus transformed our priorities in life.

So again – I am learning that the emphasis needs to be on transformative discipleship, that reorients our priorities. NOT on reorienting people’s priorities so they can be discipled.

This reality is going to be a huge part of Redeem the Commute when it launches this fall, and Redeemer Church as it emerges.

Exponential 2012 – These are the People in Your Neighbourhood (Guest Post by Kristin)

This past April I had the joy of attending Exponential, an American church planting conference, alongside Ryan.  I say it was a joy for many reasons; three days together – just the adults, warm Florida weather, great vacation before heading back to work, and of course hearing from some of the legends of church planting.  I decided that if I was going to invest 3 days at this conference I needed to jump in with both feet, and look for workshops that would teach and challenge me.  One such workshop did just that.  Ryan asked me if I would write about it and be his first guest blogger!

The workshop title was “The Good Hood: Major on the Majors by Loving Your Neighbours”.  The description grabbed me right away; challenging us as the church that if we can only be good at one thing, it better be the most important thing to God.  Brian Mavis, Externally Focused Director of Life Bridge Christian Church in Colorado, proposed that would be to live the Great Commandment in everyday ways, in our own neighbourhoods.

As Ryan and I prepare to move into a new neighbourhood, to plant a church for busy commuting families in the suburbs of Toronto, this workshop sounded like the perfect topic for me.  While Ryan seems to have a plan all mapped out, I haven’t had the same exposure to church planting literature and theory, so I was eager to be schooled.  While I was expecting to sit through a 45 minute to an hour lecture/sermon on why being a good neighbor is consistent with Jesus’ teaching, what I got was a humiliating exercise with a simple take away message.

Brian had us make a tic-tac-toe board on a sheet of paper.  In the center we wrote our own name.  The eight surrounding boxes were for each of our closest eight neighbours.  He had us write their names.  OK no problem, I can do that, there’s Paul and Mary beside us; Chris and Jennifer two doors down; Alex and…..um, shoot, what’s her name behind us; the old lady between us; and well you can see where this was going!  I managed to fill in at least one name in five boxes.  Not bad, I thought, Toronto is a busy city…we live on a busy street…We just don’t have anything in common with our neighbours…the excuses started to formulate in my head.  Then we were asked to add in each box something about our neighbours; something we learned from them personally, something that was part of their life story.  Um, OK, I know Paul goes to Czechoslovakia every summer, and that Mary likes to cook; Chris works at a University, and Alex likes to have loud parties.  Yikes…that wasn’t too good, I thought, as I started to hide my paper under my arm so that the lady beside me didn’t see how badly I was doing at this exercise.   Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Brian asked us to add our neighbours’ hopes and dreams in each box!  Hopes and dreams, oh man, I have barely talked to these people let alone get personal enough for them to share with me their hopes and dreams!  I was officially ashamed.

The “Sheet of Shame” was the name of this exercise, and boy did it work!  While the majority of the room was unable to write any hopes or dreams for their neighbours, they didn’t fare any better than me.  While that was shamefully redeeming, the point didn’t even need to be spoken.  GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURS!  What kind of blessings could we bring to the people living next door to us, if we just knew what they needed.

Brian offered a pattern to follow as we go out into our communities and start to make a change in small and significant ways.

1)       OBEY:  God has commanded us to go and share the Good News.  Now more than ever, our communities are filled with people who have little to no church experience, and who have never heard of Jesus.  The change starts with a willingness, a conviction, to share life with those closest to us.

2)      PRAY:  Don’t talk to your neighbours about God before you have talked to God about your neighbours.

3)      PLAY:  Be active and visible in your community.  Talk to your neighbours, don’t just wave from across the street as you drive into your garage.  Use your kids.  Invite people over for dinner.

4)      STAY:  Invest in your community, if this is where God has called you.  Plan to stay in your house for sometime.  Stay at home on the weekends, instead of rushing to get out of town.  Never go to Home Depot – ask around, every neighbourhood has that guy with a garage loaded with tools.  Sometimes this means staying around Sunday mornings, to understand what other do, and find a different time to worship.

5)      SAY:  When the time is right and the opportunity presents itself, share the good news of Jesus Christ.

I left this workshop energized and excited to meet up with Ryan again and share what I had learned.  While some may say this sounds contrived, I like to think of this as a renewal of social norms.  Nowadays, Facebook, Twitter and social media tends to take the forefront in our social interactions with others, and while they have their place, they are no substitute for face to face community.  I am ready, for our move and new community; and ready to be the best neighbour my neighbours have ever had!

I hope you’ll learn the same, if you try the Sheet of Shame.  How did you fare?

Photo Credit: Rachel via Compfight

Exponential – Hugh Halter and Matt Smay

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The Exponential Conference is over for another year and I have decided to spread out my blog posts and keep them short, rather than trying to pack thee full days of solid content into a post or two.

I wanted to start with a workshop called Gathered & Scattered with Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, of Adullam Communities in Denver. They wrote the Tangible Kingdom Primer that we used in forming the reconnect launch team.

These guys are part of a form of church that is both gathered and scattered, rather than the default, gathered mode of most western churches. It’s true – most people, church attenders or not hear about church planting and ask me when and where our first service will be, and when the building goes up! We have generally forgotten the scattered, sent, serving mode of church exists at all, outside of occasional forays in outreach or overseas missions.

Adullum is instead built around a network of communities – groups sometimes smaller, sometimes larger than conventional small groups, but with a broader focus than care. They have intentionally defined what aspects of their church are scattered: Evangelism, Teaching, Shepherding and Crisis Intervention. They centralize, or gather on Sundays for Children’s ministries, some funding of ministries, but more importantly Vision, Communion (the Lord’s Supper) and the pastors do some “brokering” of pastoral care between groups.

Some memorable thoughts and ideas:

  • When you invite someone to church, who makes the cross-cultural shift? The invited person needs to come sing for 20 minutes…who in our culture sings for 20 minutes?
  • the modal (gathered) and sodal (scattered) modes require different gift mixes from the APEST list in Eph. 4. Sodal needs pastors and teachers. Modal is prophet, evangelist. And the Apostle tends to bridge both.
  • It is really hard to make disciples on Sundays
  • We are not against attractional, but it will not extend the kingdom anymore
  • We tell the gospel every Sunday at communion
  • worried about how to maintain doctrinal purity? That is the story of the New Testament!
  • They started as a “stealth church”. After writing their book, transfer growth started showing up, and they shifted from spending 90% of their time discipling new Christians, to 50% consumed by integrating Christians. So they stopped weekly worship, and the transfer growth only interested in a new worship experience (about 60 people) disappeared.

Needless to say, I was interested to hear about a model like this that is working, since it is very close to what I have in mind for Ajax, since so many are commuters on the go, scattered, and I long to see church form in a similar way.