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.
… 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…”
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.
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