My experience with New York City and church planting includes amazing highs and depressing lows. It started in 2005 when I took the class: Introduction to Church Planting. I was a student at Ozark Christian College hoping to become a preacher of some kind, most likely at an established church in the midwest, close to home. I had actually never heard of “church planting,” but it sounded like good thing that maybe my church could give money to. It was much more than I realized; it was something that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I remember my professor, Dave Smith, speaking so emphatically about the influence and importance of urban centers (specifically New York City), and the lack of churches planted in them. As I took more of his classes, I kept thinking about NYC and how crazy it would be to go there one day. During my senior year, Dave let me know about a summer internship at Forefront Church, a 2 year-old Orchard Group church plant in Manhattan.
So in 2007 I came to the city, not knowing a soul, but knowing that God was calling me here. The internship was a wonderful experience and by the end of it, I had fallen in love with the city. I knew that God wanted me to stay, so I found an apartment and went on a job search. I was actually able to help my Dave with some of his classes when he started bringing them to the city. In fact, one of the guest speakers led a ministry here in the city where I was able to work at for a few months as an administrative assistant. It was a very random job, but it was a job! I continued to be involved at Forefront Church, leading a small group and leading the setup team for Sunday mornings. It was a pretty exciting time. All I knew was that God led me to New York City and that I wanted to be involved with church planting.
After a few months of being a Forefront, I was asked to come on staff for a leadership residency. It was the perfect opportunity to learn the nuts & bolts of what goes into a young, successful church plant. For a year I was doing all kinds of stuff – leading interns in service to the community, setting up for worship on Sunday mornings, maintaining the church website. It looked like this was the church that God had planned for me to be at in New York.
However, as I started the second year of the residency, I became restless. I was tired of doing anything and everything. I wanted to move to focus on a few specific things – teaching, discipleship. However, the ministry needs were nearly all geared toward administrative tasks that I was doing, which I can be good at, but are not my complete passions in ministry. As the residency ended, it was clear that if I stayed at Forefront, I would be doing the administrative tasks which I didn’t want to do. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for where I thought God had been leading me.
During that same year, I was getting burned out of focusing all my ministry energy on the background of the Sunday worship services. I began thinking about different ways of doing church that were focused more on relationships than just Sunday worship. I devoured books about house churches, being missional, missional communities, and other church leadership buzz words. The more I read, the more I realized that no church I knew was even coming close to doing any of the things I read.
Suddenly the plan I thought God had for me didn’t make any sense. He had led me to New York City, He led me to Forefront Church, He provided a job, then He provided this residency. Now when the residency was over and…? On top of all that, I continued to wrestle with a different way to do church, which made me debate if I should even stay a part of Forefront. Honestly, I questioned whether I should even be a pastor. I didn’t want to leave New York, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. I ended up getting a part time job in retail during the evenings. It really felt like a step backwards in my career. I had no idea where God was leading me or how my recent experiences fit into his plan.
Then I met Chris. Chris was planting a new Orchard Group church in upper Manhattan, called Everyday Church, and they were looking at doing things a little differently. They had just started meeting as a home group on Sundays where they ate a meal together, had communion, and looked at a story from the Bible. They didn’t have a worship service yet. It was definitely different from my church experience so far. As I got to know Chris and the rest of the staff, it was clear that we had a similar vision of what church could look like. I reluctantly decided to join the staff part time. The church was very relationally focused. They didn’t have a “launch date” for their weekly worship services like most church plants I knew. Instead, they met as home groups and served their neighbors. They didn’t do any marketing, but relied on relationships to grow. They would start a monthly worship service when it felt appropriate. I loved it.
I led one of our home groups and soon became the worship leader when we started our worship services. I had never led a band before, but I was willing and able. The church was only like 40 people, so it was a little less intimidating than leading a large congregation. We didn’t even have a sound system! For the first year, we met as home groups three weeks a month and then for worship once a month. We steadily grew until we started a third home group. In 2012, we added a sound system to worship and starting having it every other week. I also started serving full time at Everyday. Everyday had a balance between relationships and worship that I hadn’t experienced before. That summer we celebrated the baptism of 7 of my friends at Everyday. As I’ve looked back on my whole experience in New York and in church planting, Everyday Church is where God wanted me – it just wasn’t around when I first got here!
This year we’re transitioning our home groups into Everyday Groups, which are more like missional communities. I’m even going to be leading the launch of our next one. Stay tuned to hear about my experience with it!
So that’s my experience with church planting so far. It has been harder than I ever thought possible. I expected it to be difficult, you know, like facing an exciting challenge. I didn’t expect my dreams to be shattered and re-arranged. Though it’s often quite difficult, I can’t see myself serving the kingdom anywhere else doing anything else.