I (Brian) talked to a lot of other church planters and strategists in our area to get some answers. It just didn't make sense, and I was beginning to wonder if this church planting thing was a mistake. But when I talked to successful planters in our area, they said we were not mistaken, and that this journey was far from over. "You guys have a good team," a friend told me. "Quitting would be the worst thing for you guys, and for your city."
If you're not familiar with church planting strategies, I'd like to share with you something that will help make this all make sense. In church planting, there are two primary approaches that most people take: "Launch large" and "missional communities." In a launch large strategy, the idea is to gather people at ongoing events (such as preview services) until you reach a critical mass and can "launch." Missional communities is different. In this way, you start with a few people (called a missional community, or MC), make disciples until you can start a new MC, then another, then another, until you have 5 or 6 MCs... THEN you start worship services. Basically, launch large focuses on a Grand Opening whereas missional communities is more of a soft launch strategy.
Well, we wanted missional communities, but we wanted a lot of people, too. That's why we were trying to do the launch large thing. The problem? We are in an urban context, and when you're planting urban and want to launch large, you need either (a) A lot of money (typically $200-400K) to pay for staff, advertising, and facilities, OR (b) A lot of people (typically 50-80) who are committed to your church on the front end. We had neither. If we were rural or suburban, where we aren't competing against a lot of other activity, these two things come in the process of doing preview services (i.e. With each service, you get more people and more money), but in an urban context, the pace is faster and these things don't just "arrive."
This is why we stalled. We didn't have the money or people to overcome the challenges of urban church planting. I hoped God would simply overcome these obstacles on our behalf, but he didn't. Why? I believe we weren't ready, and I also believe God wanted us to focus less on "getting" people and more on "growing" people.
Last fall, we began making the shift toward Missional Communities. At the time we were calling them "house churches," but the gist is the same. We were still gaining clarity, and a season of experimenting began. Then in January, we introduced a 40 Day prayer challenge, in which we asked God to give us the clarity we needed. The result? God gave us exactly what we asked for. We believed God was making it clear that our ultimate vision for ECHO (to become a network of communities across Nashville) must remain. However, God was asking us to change our strategy. In other words, the destination stays the same, but our path to get there changes.
What is this path? It is the way of missional community. It's not flashy and it doesn't get quick results. Instead, it's raw, relational, and takes a long time. But we believe we are be better at disciple-making and more effective at planting in an urban context. Over the past 90 days, ECHO has grown a missional community hosted at our home. We eat together, pray together, train together, and celebrate together. And we are seeing God's affirmation every day. Our community is deeper, healthier, and more beautiful than we've ever been.
The way of launching large is quick and intense, while the way of missional community is long and slow. The focus of launching large is harvesting, while the focus of missional community is cultivating. We chose to spend the past 6 months or so cultivating relationships and community, and we expect the next 6 to 12 months to be similar. Will we multiply immediately? Probably not. We are no longer focused on quick results. We're simply focused on disciple-making, and we're choosing to let God do the rest.
Much of the posts to come will help to explain and narrate what God is doing in our evolving network of communities. He is up to so much, but there's simply not enough room in a single post to share it all!
So please pray for us. Pray for God's continued favor, for our continued resilience, and for lives to be changed as a result.