CHURCH PLANTING & These #Post-Pandemic Churches are done with buildings. Here’s why.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Almost 15 years ago when analyzing healthy planted churches, I found that most planted churches preferred to lease or rent their space rather than build buildings. This freed them up for flexibility and to put their financial resources into meeting the needs of others. I’ve been a big advocate of this since the award-winning book of mine was published by Abingdon Press: Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations.

Here’s another article that confirms the continued importance of growing the post-pandemic church by utilizing non-facility-based community. After all, churches are people, not a facility.

by Mya Jaradat, 7/18/21, Deseret News.

…Being online means being unencumbered by financial concerns that come with maintaining a facility, he said, noting that the congregation is free to focus on values — like social justice and spiritual formation — rather than the bottom line. It’s also allowed the group to attract worshippers who wouldn’t be able to attend in person, including people from California, London and Australia, the Rev. Whang said.

“A church is a network of relationships,” he said. “It’s the people,” not where they meet.

… However, now that it’s safe for many Americans to return to in-person worship, some religion experts are questioning why virtual church enthusiasts want to remain online. Online worship can be gratifying, but, both spiritually and sociologically, it often leaves something to be desired, said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a physician and neuroscientist who studies religious experiences.

“From what we know in general about how the brain works there is a kind of resonance that occurs when we’re with other people,” said Newberg, a pioneer in neurotheology. “The brain is designed to be social.”

… The power of in-person church

Newberg pointed to the power of sacred architecture to illustrate his point. “If you walk into the Vatican — I don’t care what religion (you are) — when you walk into the Vatican, it’s hard not to feel something because of its grandeur,” he said.

Even smaller houses of worship create a sense of awe, he added, noting that vaulted ceilings contribute to a feeling of “spacelessness” in the brain — a sensation that might help us feel a little less connected to our earthly concerns and more connected to the people around us and God.

Seeing the Vatican through a screen, Newberg added, doesn’t pack the same neurological punch, in part because other sensory cues, like smell, are missing. Online worship, no matter how well it’s done, likely can’t affect us as deeply as in-person church does, he said.

Dr. Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist and the director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, said that while researchers still don’t know exactly what accounts for the potency of in-person, group worship — “the research is a little behind there,” he said — it probably activates circuitry in the brain’s reward pathway. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine are likely involved, he said. 

Research has also shown that being with a group — particularly when that group is engaged in some sort of activity that makes a positive contribution to society, like volunteering — leads to physiological changes that create a feeling of warmth. The metaphorical warmth that stems from being with others “has a physiological basis,” Koenig said. 

Prior to COVID-19, almost all in-person services incorporated some element of touch, as well, which also creates a sense of well-being, he added. 

“As a psychiatrist, even though we’ve got COVID-19, I always touch (my patients) when they leave the room. That physical touch is critical,” Koenig said. 

In general, face-to-face interactions and group activities, including worship, create “collective effervescence,” wrote Adam Grant recently in The New York Times, using a coin termed by the famed French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Take the collective out — or put it behind a screen — and the experience is flattened. 

However, Newberg noted that religious believers who live in isolation, like some monks and nuns, certainly do have religious experiences. So while the in-person, group aspect of worship is important, it’s not essential. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a religious experience. 

Similarly, Teresa Berger, a professor of liturgical studies and Catholic theology at Yale Divinity School, said just because someone comes to an in-person worship service doesn’t mean they’re mentally engaged. 

“Some of them, quite honestly, in their minds are going to be elsewhere,” she said. 

Theologically speaking, Berger added, “The decisive element is a community gathered — and I don’t mean gathered only physically but gathered in a multitude of ways, some of them could be digitally mediated — around seeking to encounter a divine presence.”

Read more at … https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/7/18/22575707/are-churches-done-with-buildings-online-virtual-worship-congregations-covid-19-pandemic

CHURCH REVITALIZATION & Why it is needed more than ever! Researchers discover more Protestant churches closed in 2019 than opened — continuing a decades-long congregational slide that is only expected to accelerate. Pre-pandemic 75-150 churches close per week!

I have helped 100s of churches turnaround. And I’ve written & taught DMin courses in three seminaries on “How to Turnaround a Church.”

If your church wants to preserve its legacy and grow … then contact me today at http://www.Leadership.Church

“Study: More churches closing than opening” by Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service, 5/22/21.

A new study from Lifeway Research suggests more Protestant churches closed in 2019 than opened — continuing a decades-long congregational slide that is only expected to accelerate.

The study, which analyzed church data from 34 Protestant denominations and groups, found that 4,500 churches closed in 2019, while about 3,000 new congregations were started. The 34 Protestant denominations account for about 60% of U.S.-based Protestant denominations.

“Even before the pandemic, the pace of opening new congregations was not even providing enough replacements for those that closed their doors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

The study also pointed to the hastening of church closures. In 2014, it found, there were 3,700 church closures, compared with 4,500 in 2019.

…That study, published in April, estimated that in the decade ending in 2020, 3,850 to 7,700 houses of worship closed per year in the United States, or 75 to 150 congregations per week. It also projected those numbers will double or triple in the wake of the pandemic.

Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2021/05/26/study-more-churches-closing-than-opening/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Study%3A%20More%20churches%20closing%20than%20opening&utm_campaign=ni_newsletter

CHURCH PLANTING & prioritizing church planting over personal evangelism is what has led to decline in the Southern Baptist Church according to leading SBC seminary president and author. Today we need a re-emphasis of personal evangelism in the church planter and the planted church.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I first met Dr. Chuck Kelly, president of New Orleans Baptist Theo. Seminary, when a conference I help lead (called the Great Commission Research Network) was meeting at their facility. I was humbled and honored when Dr. Kelly, then President of the seminary, began serving tables to the men and women assembled for our annual banquet. Not only a humble and gregarious man, he is also known for his insights and understanding of church growth. Here are his comments on why the Southern Baptist Church has lost 2.3 million adherents in the past 15 years.

I agree with Dr. Kelly that church planting is important. But I have noticed many denominations and networks focus training their leaders in church planting procedures – but not equipping their leaders with ways to empower attendees to personally share their faith.

Dr. Kelley‘s observation is that because of this you get more churches, but not more Christians, is well taken and something I’ve seen in practice.

My hope is this article, and my work coaching churches and denominations, will lead to a needed re-emphasis of personal evangelism in the church planted and the planter church.

by Bob Smietana, 5/21/21. Religion News Service.

… Kelley, of the Conservative Baptist Network, sees the decline as an organizational failure. The (Souther Baptist Church) denomination’s North American Mission Board, he said, moved away from personal evangelism in the 1980s to a focus on church planting. That has led to more churches but not more baptisms and Southern Baptists.

Churches have also dropped the ball on keeping and inspiring church members, he said, a practice known as “discipling.” From the 1920s to the 1970s, he said, Southern Baptists had a range of programs to help people grow in their faith and learn to live according to Christian teaching. Those programs, he said, have largely run out of steam and disappeared.

Chuck Kelley, the former president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the Conservative Baptist Network. Video screengrab

Chuck Kelley. Video screengrab

“You combine that failure of discipleship with less and less attention to evangelism and a culture that is less and less hospitable to the Christian faith and guess what?” he said. “You have declining churches.”

Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2021/05/21/russell-moore-is-leaving-southern-baptist-leadership-the-denominations-troubles-remain/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Russell%20Moore%20leaves%20Southern%20Baptist%20leadership%2C%20but%20denomination’s%20troubles%20remain&utm_campaign=ni_newsletter

CHURCH PLANTING & Fuller Theo. Seminary launches the world’s first global directory of church planting organizations, searchable by theology, location & methodology.

(Fuller Theo. Seminary Alumni Newsletter) The Fuller Church Planting Initiative is proud to announce the launch of PlanterMatch, the world’s first global directory of church planting organizations, on October 1, 2020 at 9:00 am PDT.

For networks, denominations and other church planting organizations, listing on the site is completely free and extremely easy. Just complete a brief questionnaire to provide basic information about the organization.

Planters will be able to use the PlanterMatch site to filter the myriad of organizations by location, theology, and methodology to find the ones that best suit their needs and circumstances, expediting the process of establishing ministry partnerships.

There are already close to a hundred church planting organizations from a wide array of traditions, working in all four corners of the globe, listed on PlanterMatch. Our prayer is that the directory will continue to grow and prove to be beneficial to church planting efforts all around the world.

Read more at …https://plantermatch.org/

CHURCH PLANTING & “Multiplying Church,” “Reproducing Church” and “Planted Church” defined & compared. #Stetzer #Bird #Bennardo

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/30/19.

Terms describing “church multiplication” are tossed around with such frequency, that leaders are often confused about how to differentiate a planted church, a reproducing church and a multiplying church.

The best definition for a “multiplying church” comes from my friends Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird in their book “Viral Churches.”

A “multiplying church:”

A church multiplication movement is a rapid reproduction rate of 50% through the third generation of churches, with new churches having 50% new converts. To achieve such momentum, churches would need to plant, on average, a new church every two years with each church reaching at least half its attendees from the unchurched community.”

Stetzer and Bird, Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers (San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), p. 116.

A “reproducing church” would be, by definition and comparison, a congregation that is planting daughter congregations, but not with the frequency of a “multiplying church.”

A “planted church” would, by definition, be a church that has been nurtured by a mother congregation.

A “venue/campus church” shares some commonalities and dissimilarities with a “planted church” and you can read a comparison here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/multiplication-5-reasons-churches-should-balance-their-internal-external-church-planting/

Tom Bennardo in his excellent book, “The Honest Guide to Church Planting (Zondervan, 2019, p. 119) sums up the differences:

Good      Planting a Church

Better    Planting a Reproducing Church

Best       Planting a Multiplying Church

I’ve listed further resources for church planting here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/church-planting-cost-effective-alternatives-to-the-customary-planting-strategies/

And this is how my colleague C. Peter Wagner is often misquoted about church planting (and what he really meant): https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/church-planting-why-an-emphasis-upon-conversion-is-the-best-way-to-grow-the-church-petewagner/

MULTIPLICATION & “3700 U.S. churches closed in the most recent year studied (2017), and over 4000 were started. More churches started than closed… all the while the culture grew more secular. We live in interesting (and challenging) times”

Ed Stetzer, Twitter, 12/10/19.  
3700 U.S. churches closed in the most recent year studied (2017), and over 4000 were started. More churches started than closed… all the while the culture grew more secular. We live in interesting (and challenging) times.  
You can follow Ed Stetzer on Twitter: @edstetzer

CHURCH PLANTING & America’s “Surge Cities” … These Are the 50 Best Places in America for Starting a Business

by Arnobio Morelix, Inc. Magazine, 4/2/19.

In December, Startup Genome partnered with Inc.to analyze 50 U.S. metropolitan areas–in everything from job creation to entrepreneurship rates to wage increases–and then to score them by economic growth. That turned into this list of America’s Surge Cities.


1. AUSTIN

Austin is now growing four times faster than most of Silicon Valley–drawing talent and startups from all over the country.

Once known as a magnet for slackers, the so-called “Live Music Capital of the World” and home of the University of Texas-Austin had a reasonable cost of living, loads of sunshine, well-educated people, and a fun streak. Those are still the reasons people flock to Austin, but slacking off is most certainly not their goal. Today, the metro area, with a population of 2.1 million, is growing four times faster than San Jose and San Francisco (per capita), with entrepreneurs leading the way. Last year, Tyler Haney, founder of New York City-based athletic clothing company Outdoor Voices, relocated her venture-backed company here, as did Peter Thiel’s San Francisco venture capital firm, Mithril Capital. Tech giants including Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Dropbox have all established large presences here. And in December, Apple, which already has its second-largest outpost in Austin, announced it will be investing $1 billion to build a new campus that could eventually hold 15,000 new employees. With all the shiny new high-rises sprouting downtown, it can feel like the city has changed almost overnight, but in fact it’s been decades in the making. Austin-born originals like Dell, Whole Foods, and Trilogy Software have been luring talent to town since the ’80s–and then watching alums go on to become founders themselves. More recent successes, such as Homeaway, Bazaarvoice, and Deep Eddy vodka, have done the same. And South by Southwest allows the city to show itself off to the world’s startup elite every spring. The result: thriving startup scenes in food and drink, computer hardware, enterprise software, and–increasingly–consumer tech. Austin still has lots of live music, but today the city’s creative class is creating business as much as art.

2. SALT LAKE CITY

Mormons, skiing, and a herd of tech unicorns have colonized Silicon Slopes, the region with the greatest volume of high-growth companies.

Known as the Crossroads of the West–the first transcontinental railroad and the first transcontinental highway both pass through–the mountainside city also has another, slicker nickname: Silicon Slopes. Tech giants such as Adobe, Electronic Arts, and Oracle all have offices here. Meanwhile, homegrown internet businesses like Ancestry.com and Omniture now employ thousands of people and generate billions in revenue. Entrepreneurs here tend to hail from one of two schools, Brigham Young University, owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Utah Valley University. People move here not just because of the world-class skiing–or their Mormon roots–but also because it’s still much more affordable than other tech hot spots. In recent years, the region has added five new startups valued at more than $1 billion each, including education platform Pluralsight, smart-home equipment maker Vivint, and data analytics firms InsideSales.com, Domo, and Qualtrics. The founders of the latter two, Josh James and Ryan Smith, respectively, are the big entrepreneurial personalities in town.
3. RALEIGH
The state capital, part of the hyper-educated Research Triangle, is buzzing with software startups.

This former tobacco and textile town has been transformed into a software hub. Raleigh’srevitalized downtown is home to a number of fast-growth startups, including business software maker Pendo, which closed a $50 million Series D in 2019. Like many startups in the area, Pendo got its start in HQ Raleigh, the city’s dominant co-working space, which offers flexible leases and access to mentors. The Research Triangle–the area encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill–boasts the fourth-most-educated population in the country, ahead of San Francisco, according to personal finance firm WalletHub. Forty-seven percent of the local talent pool holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, and many are from well-regarded local universities Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and NC State. These schools all offer strong engineering and computer science programs, so the startup scene is software heavy. But there’s also a thriving food scene that includes Seal the Seasons, which freezes and distributes farmers’ crops. Overall, North Carolina companies raised $1.1 billion in 2017, up 36 percent from the previous year.

Read more at … https://www.inc.com/surge-cities/best-places-start-business.html

CHURCH PLANTING & Evangelistic effectiveness may be determined by if you are planting “FOR” evangelism or “FROM” evangelism. #CT

“How Evangelistically Effective is Church Planting?”

by Jeff Christopherson, Christianity Today 8/20/18

In 2002 pastor and author Tim Keller published a brief article entitled “Why Plant Churches” that has since become a staple regarding the necessity of church planting. In it, he writes, “The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city.”

His words echo the oft-quoted claim by C. Peter Wagner in his book Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.” Dramatic population increases, the rise of the “nones,” and pervasive church closures would seem to validate this claim, but is it true?

The answer is: It depends.

Church planting is evangelistically effective only to the degree that it is evangelistically focused from the beginning.

From my observation, church planters come in two sizes:

1) Those who plant churches “FOR” evangelism,and

2) Those who plant churches “FROM” evangelism.

At first glance, it might seem like an incidental distinction – but when it comes to evangelistic effectiveness, it is anything but. The former, with an eye toward speedier sustainability, throw everything at gathering a strong launch team, typically comprised of the “already churched.”

While this group is usually easier to congregationalize, this association comes with some complications that are difficult to overcome. The ease with which the planter convinces churchgoers to join his ‘better thing’ often correlates with the ease with which they will become discontented and initiate another hunt for a more suitable replacement at some point in the future.It is a rare planter that can keep his original “churched” launch team beyond two years.

Further, this population often has very few meaningful relationships outside of their evangelical subculture and are skeptical that personal evangelism is achievable amid the darkness that surrounds them. Disciple-making finds very few passionate advocates.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/august/how-evangelistically-effective-is-church-planting.html

CHURCH PLANTING & Least livable: 50 worst US cities to reside in. Time For #ChurchPlanters to step up to the challenge?

by Samuel Stebbens and Evan Comen, USA Today, 6/13/18.

…Quality of life is subjective, and difficult to measure. Still, there is a wide range of quantifiable factors that can impact quality of life in a given area. Affordability, safety, job market strength, quality of education, infrastructure, average commute times, air quality, and the presence of cultural attractions are just a few examples of factors that can influence overall quality of life.

24/7 Wall St. created an index with measures in eight categories — crime, economy, education, environment, health, housing, infrastructure, and leisure — to identify the 50 worst cities to live in. Not confined to a single region, the worst cities span the country from the South to the Midwest and from New England to the Pacific coast.

Read the list here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/06/13/50-worst-cities-to-live-in/35909271/

NEED-MEETING & 5 ways to determine community needs

by Michael Fries, LifeWay, 4/16/18.

… We’re partnering with a local church to plant an autonomous congregation in our city, and we’re also planting additional campuses of our own church. In doing so, we’ve had to develop ways to pinpoint where to plant in our city.

1. KNOW THE SOCIAL MAKEUP OF YOUR COMMUNITY.

Learning about your community is simple. While it’s possible to spend a fair amount of money for detailed demographic reports, you can also learn valuable information while spending next to nothing.

Begin with the U.S. Census Bureau website. Use its free tools to identify what is happening in the immediate areas around your church and in the larger area that makes up your community.

2. KNOW THE RELIGIOUS MAKEUP OF YOUR COMMUNITY.

TheARDA.com is a useful tool that allows you to research the religious affiliation of your area based on city name, zip code and other search parameters.

3. MAP THE MEMBERS OF YOUR CHURCH.

Missiologist Keelan Cook has made mapping a fairly simple process. His mapping tool uses Google Maps to let you quickly identify the geographic makeup of your congregation. You can access his tool at bit.ly/keelancook.

Once you have uploaded your membership database into the tool, it will produce a digital map that will allow you to identify your members’ areas of concentration.

4. MAP THE CHURCHES IN YOUR COMMUNITY.

It may require a bit more time to accomplish this task, as you will need to enter the addresses of every local church into a database. Then you can upload them into the tool mentioned above and produce a digital map pinpointing every church in your community.

Too often churches overlook this step. They simply look to identify pockets of need without carefully considering who else might already be working in those areas.

5. IDENTIFY GROWTH AREAS.

The final step is setting priorities based on growth projections.

Population movement is significant in evaluating the need for a church plant. Expanding areas need more churches, and congregations in those areas have greater potential to grow.

If migration patterns and growth areas are not easy to identify, this information can often be found by contacting your city manager or chamber of commerce.

These steps will help you develop a database of target areas and a methodology of church planting. But the value of studying your community goes beyond knowing where you should plant a church and what kind of church to plant.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/04/16/church-planting-blueprint-5-ways-to-determine-the-needs-of-your-community/

CHURCH PLANTING & Death maps show where despair is killing Americans.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my coaching and mentoring of church planters, I have found them increasingly open to going to hard-hit urban and rural areas. This map shows that some of the most needy areas are in rural Appalachia. One of my former students (who shadowed me for a year to learn consulting) Jay Wise, pastors a church in the middle of the red zone. Read this article to understand more … so you can pray for Jay and consider supporting ministers who labor in these challenging environments.

“Death maps show where despair is killing Americans“ by Maggie Fox, NBC News, 3/14/18.

Researchers have mapped out deaths from alcohol, drugs and violence across the U.S. and found troubling patterns of despair that have worsened in recent years.

While deaths from alcohol abuse, suicide and violence are down, they are more than outweighed by a gigantic 600 percent increase in drug overdose deaths, the team at the University of Washington found.

Their county-by-county breakdown of mortality data going back to 1980 paints an extremely detailed picture of where society is failing the most Americans.

“Every county experienced an increase in deaths from drug use disorders, but that burden of drug use overdoses was particularly acute in certain communities,” Laura Dwyer-Lindgren and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Death rates from drug abuse have increased by more than 600 percent since 1980, county-level data from the University of Washington shows. University Of Washingtonh

Drug deaths cluster in Appalachia. A map showing the rate of increase is even more dramatic, showing hot spots of worsening drug overdoses in Appalachia, Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Read more at … https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna856231?__twitter_impression=true

CHURCH PLANTING & Starting a Plant in a Internet Cafe: The Sol Cafe in Edmonton, AB

By Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 15, 2006. This is an excerpt of the chapter on this innovative church plant I wrote for the Abingdon Press book titled: Inside the organic church: Learning from 12 emerging congregations.

Chapter 2: Sol Café, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

We’re a “coffee-stop,” an “information booth” along a spiritual highway.

“Worship leading is … ‘curating” (providing opportunities for engagement and free association). – Sally Morgenthaler, worship leader and consultant

First Encounters:

It looked like any other Internet café, with little indication a church gathering was about to take place. Feeling adrift, I made my way to the coffee bar. “I guess I’m the church greeter,” began Winston, the barista. “I usually don’t act so forward but you looked lost.” As a church growth consultant, I visit worship gatherings every weekend. But he was right, an unobtrusive beginning to this worship gathering had disoriented me. I didn’t know the bewilderment was so obvious.

“We usually don’t tell people a worship gathering is starting,” continued Winston. “We just let them get comfortable, have a coffee, and engage in conversation. Then the worship unfolds slowly … at an unhurried pace. We want to usher people into a spiritual encounter, we don’t want to announce ‘Hey, its worship time: in or out!’”

I wondered out loud if people get offended once they discover a worship gathering is unfolding. “Rarely,” replied Winston. “Most of the time people like the music, the unhurried atmosphere, patrons sharing their stories. It is a great way to do church, and it impacts people who have never been to church. They are slowly led into a church experience. It’s not dropped on them all at once.”

True to the forecast, the evening progressed deliberately forward, but at a leisured pace. People laughed, talked, introduced themselves, and generally turned this Internet café into an extended family. Instrumental music was played at first, but soon some people were singing along. Over time more joined in, and even reticent attendees soon sang. At first the songs had a reflective timbre, but as the evening progressed so did the songs’ Christian content, until finally I noticed many visitors were reflective and pensive. This unhurried evening would eventually culminate with a short interactive sermon.

The gathering that evening was warm and sociable. “And we get even better attendance when its colder,” reflected Matt Thompson one of the leaders. “Edmonton is cold in the winter,” he continued “and the Sole Café provides a warm cup of coffee, good conversations, and time to reflect on life.” Though usually frigid in January, this day in Edmonton Alberta resembled a spring afternoon. Yet good weather did not seem to deter a good turn out at the Sol Café.[i]

Dashboard:

Church: Sol Café

Leaders: Debbie and Rob Toews (now employed as the director of a Christian retreat center), Jacqueline and Winston Pei, Anika and Steve Martin, Matt Thompson, Dave Wakulchyk.

Location: Whyte Ave., an urban neighborhood in Edmonton, Alberta.

Affiliation: Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada

Size: 30-55

Target Audience: college/postmodern thinkers, metropolitan residents, urban artists, immigrant families, blue collar families, people in their twenties into late-thirties.

Website: thesolcafe.com

A Fusion of Rhythms:

Shared Rhythms

The Rhythm of Place

“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come and just sit around,” reflected Rob Toews, the founding pastor. Jokingly he continued, “a pub was another option, but we didn’t think the CMA[ii] was ready for that.”

Sol Café had begun in the basement of a nearby Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. However, the leaders felt that the catacombs of a local church would not adequately impact the postmodern thinkers in the neighborhood. “The church facility was a safe bet. It was available, and it wasn’t costly,” continued Rob. “But it also wasn’t very effective.”

Rob and another leader used a large portion of the denominational support to purchase a local Internet café. During the week they ran it as a business. Rob worked 2-3 shifts a week, selling coffee and conversing. Eddie Gibbs describes such risk taking as a characteristic of the organic church, where, “uncertainty becomes an occasion for growth, not a cause of paralysis. It is a church prepared to take risks, which learns from its failures and mistakes.”[iii]

As Gibbs forecast, mistakes followed risks. “The café was supposed to support the church, but the finances to support the staff weren’t there,” recounted Rob. “And the people we were reaching were too young or too underprivileged to make significant contributions. But the location was excellent for our mission … just not for our finances.[iv]

Read more by downloading the chapter BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – OC Chpt. 2 Sol Cafe.  But, if you enjoy the book consider supporting the publisher and the author by purchasing a copy.

And, find more examples of innovative and cost-effective church planing models here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/church-planting-cost-effective-alternatives-to-the-customary-planting-strategies/

[i] Sol Café’s leaders appropriated their name from the book “A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café” by Leonard I. Sweet and Denise Marie Siino (New York: Broadman & Holman, 1998). They also modified to fit the bilingual culture of Canada.

[ii] Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the denominational affiliation of the Sol Café congregation.

[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2000), p. 235.

[iv] Subsequently, Rob Toews had to take a fulltime job at a Christian retreat center. “I think we will survive, but it will be difficult,” observed Rob. “We are on our own now. No support from the denomination, which can be a good thing. It will make us learn and adapt.”

And click here to download a flier from the Sol Cafe explaining a bit about their ethos and genesis: thesolcafe.

CHURCH PLANTING & Cost-effective Alternatives to the Customary Planting Strategies

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 02.07.18.

I’m a big fan of church planting and I’ve planted a church myself. And, from first-hand experience I know that church planting can be a fiscally draining process. Therefore I’ve been exploring other planting strategies that are less expensive.

Here are some innovative ideas I’ve discovered:

CHURCH PLANTING & Church has no walls but many doors, accessible to seekers and skeptics

by Leadership & Faith Editorial Board, Duke University, 1/31/18. https://www.faithandleadership.com/church-has-no-walls-many-doors-accessible-seekers-and-skeptics?utm_source=NI_newsletter&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=NI_feature I coach churches in this conservative, Episcopal diocese in Texas and am amazed by some of the creativity by our high liturgy brethren.

CHURCH PLANTING & Why the “Lean Start-up Movement” changes everything,

Video by the Harvard Business Review, 1/16/18: “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything”

CHURCH PLANTING & Gentrification: More than hipster mobility, it can do greater good.

by Sam Gringlas, National Public Radio, 1/16/17, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/16/505606317/d-c-s-gentrifying-neighborhoods-a-careful-mix-of-newcomers-and-old-timers

CHURCH PLANTING & The “Ripple Model” is More Effective: Make It a Ministry of All Healthy Churches

An article in which I suggest a church begins to multiply campuses and/or sites, or by partnering with a dying congregation, launching venues in public spaces, etc.,  https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/church-planting-the-ripple-model-is-more-effective-make-it-a-ministry-of-all-healthy-churches/

CHURCH PLANTING & Starting a Plant in a Internet Cafe: The Sol Cafe in Edmonton, AB.

This is an excerpt of the chapter on this innovative church plant I wrote for the Abingdon Press book titled: Inside the organic church: Learning from 12 emerging congregations.

Chapter 2: Sol Café, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

We’re a “coffee-stop,” an “information booth” along a spiritual highway.

“Worship leading is … ‘curating” (providing opportunities for engagement and free association). – Sally Morgenthaler, worship leader and consultant

First Encounters:

It looked like any other Internet café, with little indication a church gathering was about to take place. Feeling adrift, I made my way to the coffee bar. “I guess I’m the church greeter,” began Winston, the barista. “I usually don’t act so forward but you looked lost.” As a church growth consultant, I visit worship gatherings every weekend. But he was right, an unobtrusive beginning to this worship gathering had disoriented me. I didn’t know the bewilderment was so obvious.

“We usually don’t tell people a worship gathering is starting,” continued Winston. “We just let them get comfortable, have a coffee, and engage in conversation. Then the worship unfolds slowly … at an unhurried pace. We want to usher people into a spiritual encounter, we don’t want to announce ‘Hey, its worship time: in or out!’”

I wondered out loud if people get offended once they discover a worship gathering is unfolding. “Rarely,” replied Winston. “Most of the time people like the music, the unhurried atmosphere, patrons sharing their stories. It is a great way to do church, and it impacts people who have never been to church. They are slowly led into a church experience. It’s not dropped on them all at once.”

True to the forecast, the evening progressed deliberately forward, but at a leisured pace. People laughed, talked, introduced themselves, and generally turned this Internet café into an extended family. Instrumental music was played at first, but soon some people were singing along. Over time more joined in, and even reticent attendees soon sang. At first the songs had a reflective timbre, but as the evening progressed so did the songs’ Christian content, until finally I noticed many visitors were reflective and pensive. This unhurried evening would eventually culminate with a short interactive sermon.

The gathering that evening was warm and sociable. “And we get even better attendance when its colder,” reflected Matt Thompson one of the leaders. “Edmonton is cold in the winter,” he continued “and the Sole Café provides a warm cup of coffee, good conversations, and time to reflect on life.” Though usually frigid in January, this day in Edmonton Alberta resembled a spring afternoon. Yet good weather did not seem to deter a good turn out at the Sol Café.[i]

Dashboard:

Church: Sol Café

Leaders: Debbie and Rob Toews (now employed as the director of a Christian retreat center), Jacqueline and Winston Pei, Anika and Steve Martin, Matt Thompson, Dave Wakulchyk.

Location: Whyte Ave., an urban neighborhood in Edmonton, Alberta.

Affiliation: Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada

Size: 30-55

Target Audience: college/postmodern thinkers, metropolitan residents, urban artists, immigrant families, blue collar families, people in their twenties into late-thirties.

Website: thesolcafe.com

A Fusion of Rhythms:

Shared Rhythms

The Rhythm of Place

“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come and just sit around,” reflected Rob Toews, the founding pastor. Jokingly he continued, “a pub was another option, but we didn’t think the CMA[ii] was ready for that.”

Sol Café had begun in the basement of a nearby Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. However, the leaders felt that the catacombs of a local church would not adequately impact the postmodern thinkers in the neighborhood. “The church facility was a safe bet. It was available, and it wasn’t costly,” continued Rob. “But it also wasn’t very effective.”

Rob and another leader used a large portion of the denominational support to purchase a local Internet café. During the week they ran it as a business. Rob worked 2-3 shifts a week, selling coffee and conversing. Eddie Gibbs describes such risk taking as a characteristic of the organic church, where, “uncertainty becomes an occasion for growth, not a cause of paralysis. It is a church prepared to take risks, which learns from its failures and mistakes.”[iii]

As Gibbs forecast, mistakes followed risks. “The café was supposed to support the church, but the finances to support the staff weren’t there,” recounted Rob. “And the people we were reaching were too young or too underprivileged to make significant contributions. But the location was excellent for our mission … just not for our finances.[iv]

Read more by downloading the chapter BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – OC Chpt. 2 Sol Cafe.  But, if you enjoy the book consider supporting the publisher and the author by purchasing a copy.

[i] Sol Café’s leaders appropriated their name from the book “A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café” by Leonard I. Sweet and Denise Marie Siino (New York: Broadman & Holman, 1998). They also modified to fit the bilingual culture of Canada.

[ii] Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the denominational affiliation of the Sol Café congregation.

[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2000), p. 235.

[iv] Subsequently, Rob Toews had to take a fulltime job at a Christian retreat center. “I think we will survive, but it will be difficult,” observed Rob. “We are on our own now. No support from the denomination, which can be a good thing. It will make us learn and adapt.”

And click here to download a flier from the Sol Cafe explaining a bit about their ethos and genesis: thesolcafe.

Find more on innovative and cost-effective alternatives to church planting here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/church-planting-starting-a-plant-in-a-internet-cafe-the-sol-cafe-in-edmonton-ab/

CHURCH PLANTING & Plant doesn’t have a building, only a cellphone app, linking members to church’s many parts: house groups, Taco Truck, roadside Ash Wednesday service, etc.

Commentary by Prof. B.: Having planted a church and coached perhaps hundreds of others, I believe that the current planting models are often overly dependent upon expensive strategies. Therefore I welcome this case study of a church with many ministries but no building. Instead they link the community to its many activities via a cell phone app. I coach a nearby church to this one and the pastor there told me that she thought this new model of church planting would be expanded through out her diocese (she is a bishop). Here is the article written by an editorial board at Duke University on this potentially replicable church planting model.

Church has no walls but many doors, accessible to seekers and skeptics

by Leadership & Faith Editorial Board, Duke University, 1/31/18.

…Taco Church was part of the newly launched St. Isidore Episcopal, a “church without walls” focused on small group discipleship and community service. The church didn’t have a building, and it didn’t want one, Steele said. Instead, it had a cellphone app, linking members to the church’s many parts.

As Steele explained, St. Isidore was one church embodied in many different ways. It wasn’t just Taco Church. It would eventually become three house churches, a pub theology group, a free laundry ministry, a food truck and more. It was all quite unorthodox, except the liturgy and theology, which were decidedly Episcopalian.

The Rev. Sean Steele leads Ash Wednesday services for commuters in a Houston suburb.

… This Easter, a little over a year after his first Taco Church, Mraz and his 6-year-old son were baptized in a service he helped organize as a member of the St. Isidore leadership team.

Finding new possibilities

As many mainline Protestant churches shrink and shutter across the United States, St. Isidore is finding new possibilities by marrying a denomination’s traditions with a decentralized structure drawn from the emergent-church playbook. It’s a mission church and “research and development” effort launched by Trinity Episcopal Church, a 1,500-member parish in The Woodlands, a suburb north of Houston.

“I am not trying to do something old in a new way; I am trying to do something brand-new in the old way,” said Steele, the entrepreneurial 38-year-old priest behind the experiment. “Many [church planters] feel they need to jettison the tradition. I actually think we need to be more church, not less.”

Steele holds tightly to Episcopal liturgy even as he brings it into novel settings such as breweries and laundromats. St. Isidore is aimed not just at unorthodox places, he said, but also at unorthodox people, like the formerly Daoist chicken farmer who now runs the pub theology group.

“I’m trying to think about the people who aren’t going to a church on a Sunday morning,” Steele said. “I’m not interested in getting Christians that are already Christian.”

St. Isidore (link is external) is a church with many entry points, many thresholds that even seekers and skeptics can easily cross, Steele said. St. Isidore is the patron saint of the internet (link is external) — part of the glue that holds Steele’s church together — and, as Steele likes to joke, the saint’s name conveys what the church is about: “It … is a door.”

What are the thresholds to your church? How can they be made easier to cross?

The Rev. Gerry Sevick, the rector at Trinity (link is external), hired Steele straight out of seminary in 2012 with the understanding that he would eventually plant a new church or start a missional community.

“There’s a population out there hungry for spirituality and hungry for a community of faith,” Sevick said. “While they’re skeptical about a traditional church, they are willing to explore an alternative way of being church…”

A St. Isidore member invites drivers to the roadside Ash Wednesday service. 

Church for the unchurched

…Starting in January 2015, Sevick gave Steele 10 hours a week to focus on research, dreaming, planning and working with a church-planting coach — a luxury possible perhaps only at a large multi-staff parish.

That March, a lay staff member mentioned half-jokingly that she wanted to do outreach with a free food truck. Steele jumped at the idea and started the fundraising; the food truck manufacturer became a major contributor.

The first ministry group, Pub Theology, began as an experiment in August 2015. Like similar gatherings nationwide, it attracted an eclectic mix of believers and nonbelievers across several generations. Some of them also joined other St. Isidore activities as they launched, while some just came out for the Tuesday night beer-and-discussion gatherings.

Taco Church began around the same time after Steele noticed that the group of guys he encountered at his neighborhood gym every day often shared surprisingly intimate conversations. He saw a community of trust and mutual interest that felt sort of like church.

Steele asked whether they would be interested in getting up an hour early on a Wednesday to meet across the street at Taco Bell.

“We’ll just start gathering together and praying together, and we’ll see how it unfolds,” he told them.

Four guys showed up the first time. Steele wanted to help the men recognize that their community already was blessed and that they could set it apart as sacred. Now about 10 men gather each Wednesday, including a lawyer, an event promoter and a dishwasher who was homeless for two years before he found housing with Steele’s help.

After working through a series of check-in questions, the group studies a parable. They share wisdom across generations, poke fun at each other and break bread — specifically, breakfast tacos and some Chick-fil-A sandwiches sneaked in for variety.

A few months in, one of the members asked the others where they attended church…

House churches, empowering laity

In the fall of 2015, Steele interviewed more than a dozen families from Trinity and elsewhere to find the group that would form the first house church. They began meeting in October to talk about core values and how to lead house churches. From the beginning, he wanted to empower lay leaders, whom he said churches often render impotent.

After St. Isidore was officially commissioned in January 2016, the first house church, aimed at families with young children, began meeting at the Steeles’ home. A second house church launched the following month. For several months, people would visit but not stick around. Steele, though, was patient.

Read more at … https://www.faithandleadership.com/church-has-no-walls-many-doors-accessible-seekers-and-skeptics?utm_source=NI_newsletter&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=NI_feature

Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018 LEAD 558 multiplication

CHURCH PLANTING & Why the “Lean Start-up Movement” changes everything #video

Harvard Business Review, 1/16/18: “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything”

New ventures are searching for a business model, not executing one. Download a customizable version of this video slide deck here or watch here:

For more, read “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything.”

MULTIPLICATION & 5 Ways Too Much Money Can Rot Your Church Plant

Commentary by Professor B: As I research/write a new course on “church multiplication and growth,” I am encouraging students to think of creative new ways to fund church planting. Having planted a church myself, as well as having written/coached many church plants, I believe the usual funding model is inadequate and forces church plants to be less contextualized. In the past 25+ years, I have seen that reliance upon external funding and external contexts often rob a church plant of its contextual intelligence.

Here’s an article published by Missio Alliance about this problem. I will be using this article in my new course to encourage students to design innovative ways to address it.

“The Big Problem with Barna’s Study on Church Startups and Money”

by Jared Siebert, Missio Alliance, 5/9/16.

… 5 Ways Too Much Money Can Rot Your Church Plant

Planters and denominational folk, please pay attention.

1) Excessive external funding can kill a church’s feel for context.

… Church plant structures and expectations need to be tied to context. Intimately. The best kind of church planting is committing long term to a specific location among a specific people group. We’re at our best when we tie our fate to people and place. It worked for Jesus and it will work for His church. Your life, your practices, and even your finances all need to be shaped by context. This is fundamental to incarnating the gospel.

Too much external funding interferes with this process. Tuning your communal lives to your context takes feel. It takes tension. To do it right your church will need to live somewhere between what the people want and what the people can afford.

2) Excessive external funding robs us of creativity.

You’ve heard that necessity is the mother of invention? Excessive external funding robs us of necessity. Without the tension created by necessity you won’t be as likely to actively seek out novel contextual solutions. Forcing your church, as much as possible – to be here in this place with these people – creates irreplaceable fuel for your church’s imagination.

This lack of invention doesn’t just affect the local church either. It spreads to the broader church too. One of the great gifts that planting gives the broader church is inventiveness. Less local innovation means less denominational innovation. Calling us to double down on the same old models should be a sure sign that we have a growing imagination deficit. More money won’t fix that.

3) Excessive external funding robs your church of its survival instincts.

The will to survive properly resides within the plant itself. Denominational coffers should never house your church’s survival instincts. Instead, the will to survive should come from a deep collective sense of God’s calling, love for each other, and your deep burden for the needs of your context. Your survival instincts have to be built together piece by piece over time. Too much outside financial support messes with this process. It can also make people outside your church the owners of your church. Not good.

4) Excessive external funding can mess with your sense of calling.

Planters would also do well to check their own motivations for church planting. The kind of planting work we have ahead of us will not be for the faint of heart. Reaching the hard to reach peoples in North American culture is going to take time. The harder to reach the more fruitless years you may have ahead of you. Are you ready to put in 15+ years with next to nothing to show for it? That’s not an uncommon missionary reality. Google it. It may soon be our reality too.

Read more at … http://www.missioalliance.org/the-big-problem-with-barnas-study-on-church-startups-and-money/

And for even more about this problem (and some solutions with examples), check out the Abingdon Press book, Growth by accident, Death by planning: How not to kill a growing congregation. Three of the above five missteps with external funding mentioned by Siebert are addressed with solutions in my book.

CHURCH PLANTING & A Biblical 3 phase approach #BGCEfellows

by John Paul Thompson, Ph.D. Presentation given to the Fellows of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Wheaton College, 12/19/17.

When Jesus used the planting/sowing metaphor the object planted was “the word” (Mark 4:14), “the word of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19), “the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:31) or the sons of the kingdom (Matt. 13:24, 37).

When Paul declared, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth,” (1 Cor. 3:6), he is referring to planting the gospel, not planting local chruches.

Irenaeus, in 180 AD, coined the phrase church planting when he wrote, “the Church is planted like the Garden of Eden in this world.” He was speaking of the institution of the universal Church, not of local congregations.

Stefan Paas asserts that the classical understanding of church planting throughout church history was a three step process:

  • evangelizing (sharing the gospel)
  • gathering (forming community and discipling)
  • establishing (creating the institution and structure of the church)

Paas insightfully pushes back suggesting a return to the three stages without rushing to the third stage.

  • He suggests the the third stage is not always needed in communities that already have churches.
  • He challenges church planters to consider working with exiting churches.  Church planters could focus upon planting and gathering, encouraging new followers of Jesus and their gathered groups to become part of already established churches in the community.

CHURCH PLANTING & “Why” an “emphasis upon conversion” is the best way to grow the church #PeteWagner

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., bi-annual colloquium of the Fellows of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. 12/19/17.

Pete Wagner is often quoted (out of context) saying: “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: A Comprehensive Guide, by C. Peter Wagner (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1990), p. 22.

Wagner is not saying this methodology is the key, but rather (in context) that the “emphasis upon conversion” that usually accompanies these new churches is (see Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: A Comprehensive Guide, p. 11, 20-22). As my mentor, Pete Wagner required me to read and critique the above book for my courses (DMin) with him.  -Bob Whitesel, 12/19/17.

C. Peter Wagner was not only a mentor of mine but also my colleague Dr. Rice Brooks (author of the book/movie God’s Not Dead). Brooks and I are Fellows of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. At our bi-annual colloquium Dr. Brooks gave this contextual analysis of what Wagner was saying.

“Church planting is not the best way to grow the church.  Wagner believed that preaching the Gospel is!” -Rice Brooks, Christian apologist, author of the book/movie, God’s Not Dead and fellow disciple of Pete Wagner.

LEAD 565, LEAD 600,

 

CHURCH PLANTING & It’s not for the faint-hearted: New England dominates list of post-Christian cities

“New England dominates list of post-Christian cities,” by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 9/21/17.

…Research from Barna ranks 100 American metro areas by the percentage of the population it classifies as “post-Christian.” Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts, are both in the top five.

To be considered post-Christian by Barna, a person had to meet at least nine qualifications, including things like not believing in God, having not prayed or read the Bible in the last week, and having never made a commitment to Jesus…

Here are the top 10 with the percentage of residents who are classified as post-Christian.

  1. Portland/Auburn, Maine (57%)
  2. Boston, Massachusetts/Manchester, New Hampshire (56%)
  3. Albany/Schenectady/Troy, New York (54%)
  4. Providence, Rhode Island/New Bedford, Massachusetts (53%)
  5. Burlington, Vermont/Plattsburgh, New York (53%)
  6. Hartford/New Haven, Connecticut (52%)
  7. New York, New York (51%)
  8. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, California (50%)
  9. Seattle/Tacoma, Washington (50%)
  10. Buffalo, New York (50%)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of post-Christian cities is almost the exact opposite of other Barna lists like most churched cities and most Bible-minded cities.

Seven of the top 10 post-Christian cities are in the bottom 10 of most Bible-minded, while five are part of the 10 most unchurched cities.

Three metro areas—San Francisco, Boston, and Albany, New York—rank in the top 10 of most post-Christian and most unchurched and in the bottom 10 of most Bible-minded.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2017/09/20/new-england-dominates-list-post-christian-cities/

WALKING w/ WESLEY & Planting the First Official Church in Georgia

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs.

Week 2, Day 1…………………………………… Planting the First Official Church in Georgia

Turning trials into triumphs created a degree of fame for the Wesleys. John, who was now a teaching fellow at Lincoln College in Oxford, came to the attention of James Oglethorpe. We encountered Oglethorpe earlier, when his efforts for prison reform had opened up the Oxford prison to the ministry of the Wesleys and their friends.

But now Oglethorpe had a bigger vision. He was a founder of the colony of Georgia, covering roughly the northern half of today’s State of Georgia. It was there that he envisioned a haven for people who had been imprisoned in debtor prisons. In this vast area there was no official Church of England or a designated pastor. In 1735, John Wesley became Oglethorpe’s choice to plant the first church in the colony.

To Wesley, this was an opportunity to experience Christ more deeply by preaching to others in the unpretentious, natural environs of the new world.[1] Little did he realize, it was going to be one of his greatest trials.

This church launch was well organized. Financial support was secured in advance and a meetinghouse in Savannah was designed. As they embarked from Gravesend, England, John felt everything was in order. Physically everything was in order, but in hindsight John would recall that spiritually, his house was not in order.

Accompanying them on the voyage were German Christians, called Moravians after the area from which they came. They believed that humility coupled with quiet, reflection upon scriptures and Christ were helpful methods to strengthen faith. Wesley had the opportunity to observe their method firsthand when the ship encountered several unusually destructive storms. As one relentless storm de-masted the ship, hardened sailors abandoned their posts and cried out to God for mercy.

John had a similar fear of death, which had developed prior to Oxford when he attended Charterhouse School in London. In the same building as the schoolhouse was a hospital where daily he watched individuals die, some in comfort, others in fear. Yet, as the ship appeared to be sinking with all hands doomed to death, the Moravians showed not fear, but trust. They sang and praised God with a confidence and calm that moved John to declare this was one of most glorious things he had ever seen.[2]

Still, John’s reaction in the doomed ship soon showed him he was no different from the fainthearted sailors. He too was “unwilling to die” and shaking with fright crying out to God to save him.[3] This was not the example he wanted to show those that traveled with him. Nonetheless, it was who Wesley was at this stage of his life.[4]

A similar experience loomed before the prophet Ezekiel.

Exiled into Babylon as a young man of twenty, like Wesley he had been trained to be a priest like his father. However now Ezekiel found himself in a new land with a new role. At age thirty, about the age of Wesley, God revealed his all-seeing and all-knowing power in a vision (Ezekiel 1:4-3:15). This made Ezekiel realize the inevitability of judgment upon each person’s sins and how Jerusalem’s fall was God’s punishment. But in Ezekiel 37 God shows another vision, that though his people felt as good as dead, God can take dry, sun-bleached skeletons and create a living, healthy humans again:

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again.  I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

Wesley must have felt the same way. Though he had early success, when the threat of death came near he found himself empty and unprepared. He would later call this fair-weather faith, stating:

I went to America, to convert the Indians; but O! Who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled.[5]

From these stories emerge at least two lessons.

First, early successes can propel one to think too much of oneself and of one’s own ability. Most people may encounter early successes, which they may never again be able to replicate. It’s important not to live in the past or on past glory. The lesson for Wesley and for every enthusiast is that God may give you early triumphs – to be later followed by many trials. God does promises to bring about triumphs again, if we allow our faith to mature. During this week, you will see Wesley wrestle several more times with fair-weather faith. Though he will feel like his life and career are dried up, fair-weather faith can be reinvigorated again if God does the reinvigoration.

Secondly, we are reminded that the fear of death can be a test of Christian experience. The Scriptures abound with reminders that death is not an end, but a gateway (see the verses below). Take from these stories the lesson that a fair-weather faith must be replaced by “a mind calmed by the love of God.”[6]

Lessons 1 & 2

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lesson 1) Have you found yourself thinking back to past successes, maybe even more than dreaming about future opportunities?

  • Recall a time in the past when you had a spiritual breakthrough. How did it make you feel? What lessons did you learn? Write a one paragraph summary.
  • Now picture in you mind a future success that could make you feel the same way. Write a one paragraph description of what this might look like.
  • Compare the two paragraphs. Use this rule of thumb: in the future for each minute that you spend thinking about past successes, spend two minutes dreaming about what God can do.

(Lesson 2) Ask yourself, “When have I been near death and how did I feel about standing before God?” Were you timid? Were you fearful? Were you happy? Wesley would write years later to a friend, “A Christian is not afraid to die. Are you? Do you desire to depart and to be with Christ?”[7]

Write a paragraph about how you feel about Wesley’s questions. Then meditate on the verses below. Repeat them, memorize them and read them in context. Then write another paragraph describing how these verses make you feel.

Psalm 23:4

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no danger because you are with me.

Your rod and your staff—

they protect me.

Matthew 10:28

28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

John 5:24

24 “I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life.

John 14:1-6

“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Hebrews 2:14-15

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death.

Revelation 21:4

           4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Footnotes:

[1] Frank Baker, The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 25, Letters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980), p. 439.

[2] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 143.

[3] Ibid. p. 140.

[4] John experienced similar terrifying storms on the voyage, as well as in America; all resulting in the same fright that lead him to declare regarding himself, “How is it that thou hadst no faith?” Ibid., p. 169

[5] John Wesley, The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), p. 51.

[6] Ibid., p. 165.

[7] John Telford, ed., The Letters of John Wesley, A.M., 8 vols. (London: Epworth Press, 1931), 6:30-31.

Speaking hashtags: #TheologicalReflectionSeminar