Friends, TEMC’ers and beyond: we are doing a brave thing this weekend. We’re launching a new ministry initiative. We don’t even know what to call it yet. But we know it needs your prayer and well-wishes and support.
It’ll be launched by our own Nupur James-Araujo, our beloved minister for children and youth, who now has “young adults” added to her portfolio. We don’t know exactly what a young adult is, but we figure it’s around 18-35 years old. Nupur and her husband Aaron have had a hankering for a version of church that’s a little smaller-scale, more face-to-face, more sharing food around a table than another large worship service. They’ll meet in our beautiful atrium to start, 4:30-6:30, first this Sunday January 29th, then every other week thereafter. They’ll start small—and in a way, they’ll stay small. Our digital content manager, Josh del Rosario and his wife Hannah will join them out of the gate. These four will pray, invite, show hospitality, and see who Jesus will bring to himself through them.
There is something beautiful about launching new things. Mainline liberal churches like ours have not majored in this. Our more evangelical brethren have, calling it “church planting.” This is, to follow the horticultural metaphor, grafting a healthy branch from an existing church into a new patch of soil where it can grow. Successful church planters have shown it’s a mistake to think that a young charismatic minister is the key to growing a church (Nupur is both young and charismatic, but this is not her initiative alone!). No: it takes a church to start a church, not an individual, however gifted. I studied one church plant in Oklahoma and asked how they started. ‘We asked for volunteers and 700 people from our existing church agreed to go.’ 700 people! That’s not a tender little plant, that’s already a massive tree!
Reacting against this in part, other evangelicals have suggested we grow big by growing smaller. Instead of a large (and expensive) gathering, let’s try lots of mini-gatherings, with people around tables, knowing one another face-to-face. Big gatherings are good for some things. We have two every weekend for good reasons. But small gatherings are good for other things: listening to one another well, knowing each other’s partners and children by name, praying for one another, making genuine friendships. Large gatherings draw media attention because they offer eye candy and atmospherics. Small gatherings may be better for actually growing disciples. One study in the Church of England found that these small gatherings had brought about as much growth as the equivalent of adding two new dioceses—thousands of people. A handful at a time.
Now we’re going to try this approach of growing by getting smaller. We’ve seen success with this in our Alpha groups, our Holy Yoga, and other initiatives. Folks come into the broader church with already-existing friendships and are more likely to stay. But the goal here is not to lure folks into “real” church. This gathering will be “real church” for those who invest in it. They’ll worship, talk about Jesus, figure out how to serve, give of themselves, and all the rest of it. They’ll do so in our name. I don’t just mean Timothy Eaton. I mean the name of Jesus Christ, head of the church, to whom we pray for everything, including this brave and beautiful new initiative.