Wondering if God wants you to start a new Christian community? And you aren’t sure what that might involve? Here are some pointers to think about.
1. New Christian communities have many names
They can be called fresh expressions of church, missional communities, church plants, emerging churches and more.
They arise prayerfully among people who don’t do church. Often the communities are linked to an existing local church, but take a different form.
Typically, two or more Christians:
- Listen. They ask God to reveal a need or hope in their context
- Find a simple way to respond in love
- Create community with people in the process
- Invite those involved to talk about life and faith. As this happens, they share Jesus
- Encourage a Christian community, connected to the wider church, to form round those coming to Jesus. This may be a group or congregation of a local church, or a new church in its own right
- Inspire the new community to repeat the process in its own way
All this is underpinned by prayer and connection to the wider Christian family. These communities emerge around what the Spirit is already doing in the world. So being ‘called’ is God’s invitation to join in with the Spirit.
There are two aspects: first, are you yourself called to help start a new Christian community?
Secondly, as you and the core team discuss possibilities with others in the context, how is the Spirit calling you to birth this community?
In practice, the two are often tangled together.
2. Discovering God’s call is a voyage
You journey from your existing church involvement to a new one – helping to start a new Christian community.
- Dissatisfaction with the status quo propels the voyage. You feel that there is more for you and other people round you.
Caution! Some new communities flounder because the Christian core is united by dissatisfaction with the existing church, but not much else. Holy discontent is not negativism.
- Exploration is central to the voyage.You imagine different destinations – different ways of serving God and different forms a new Christian community might take. Prayerfully you explore the possibilities. “What’s God asking me/us to do?”
- Sense-making stories are one of the results of the voyage. You and your core team tell stories about what you hope for and why, and you tell them to different audiences:
- To yourselves
- To the people you feel called to
- To your family and friends
- To your church leaders (if you are part of a church)
- To others involved.
The stories may differ, but this doesn’t matter provided they are consistent and make sense to their audiences.
Often at first these stories are about loving people and getting to know them better; only later do they include chapters about exploring Jesus and becoming a Christian community.
You don’t have to imagine the ending before you start. Indeed, like any good story, the ending may be a surprise!
3. Responding to God’s call is not always easy
- You may have to re-focus your priorities. You may have less time for other commitments (including your local church, perhaps). Reshaping your priorities is vital – but can be hard.
- You may have to give up some of your ideas. As you listen to people round you, you may come to think differently about the best way to love them.
You thought you were called to start a Messy Church, for example, but comments from families suggest something else.
- You may have to give up some of your preferences. You may have to rethink what being a Christian community or “church” will look like for the people you are called to. Perhaps it’s not what you’re used to.
Paul Unsworth, a Baptist minister, loved preaching, but dropped this idea in Kahaila Cafe’s Wednesday evening worship.
People engaged more with the Christian faith through discussion.
Just as Jesus died so that we might live, some of your preferences may have to die so that he can bring life to others.
- You may well have to be patient. New Christian communities do not emerge overnight.
4. What does God want you to do?
Prayerfully consider if any of these signs apply to you.
(a) You feel dissatisfied.
- You suspect there’s more to life
- You long for your faith to link better to everyday experience
- You wish you could do more to make the world a better place
- The church is not connecting with your friends
- You are looking for new opportunities to show God’s love.
Discontent can be God spurring you on!
(b) You know someone else who feels the same.
Often it is hard to soldier on alone. But the unexpected becomes possible when two or three people band together. That’s why Jesus sent his apprentices out in pairs (Luke 10.1).
(c) You have a passion for a group of people whose lives you’d love to enrich.
Most new Christian communities are started among people the founders already know.
What possibilities come to mind? (The more specific the group the better.)
- People you rarely notice?
- Your neighbourhood?
- Others who share your passion?
- People among whom you volunteer?
- People who break your heart?
- Your workplace?
- See 8. Ideas/Guide.
(d) Others confirm you are onto something
(e) You feel energised by the possibility
(f) The idea will not leave your head
Don’t be discouraged if all these (and other) signs are not present now. God’s call feels different for different people and grows over time.
5. Who might help you navigate the voyage?
Could you chat to a trusted Christian from time to time?
Might you study other topics in the app to understand better what’s involved?
Can you speak to someone who has started a new Christian community?
Should you speak to your church leader?
6. Keep praying!
Go to https://www.24-7prayer.com for ideas on how to pray.
New Christian communities come from God, so lay deep foundations of prayer.
Andy’s top tip for nervous beginners: lay deep foundations of prayer.
Charlotte describes her exploration process, and finding herself called to the least likely place…
Andy has given up some of his preferences, but has found safety in a surprising place.
Prayerfully read Acts 13.1-3 (Barnabas and Paul are sent off).
- If this story happened in your church today, what would it look like?
- In re-telling this story, what might the Spirit be suggesting is important?
- How do you as an individual or group discern what the Spirit is calling you to?
- Who might you ask to support you in prayer as you discern God’s will in relation to starting a new Christian community?
Choose one or more of the following:
Whether you’ve tried this before or not, prayer is about figuring out what you really long for – for other people, the world and yourself. Then you speak it, write it, draw it, imagine it or express it in some way to God. You can pray on your own, and you can pray with others.
Try focusing on what God is calling you to. Stay totally silent with each other. Close your eyes for 5 minutes (set your phone to beep after 5 minutes!). Then share what longings came to mind; draw them, speak them out, or write them down – whatever feels comfortable.
If you are using godsend with one or more others, why not pray on your own like this every day till you next meet? Keep a note of what emerges and share it with one another.
- Are any patterns emerging from your praying?
- What do you long for most deeply for other people round you?
- What do you long for most deeply for yourself?
What action do you think God’s voice of love may be calling you to take? Individually or as a group, you may find the taketime website helpful in meditating/listening to God.
- Finding answers
- Testing your call
If you feel yourself being called to help start a new Christian community:
- Who might you discuss this with?
- Explore the resources available at www.fxresourcing.org that might help you prayerfully to think further?
- Might you read one or more of the following?
Barbara Glasson, Mixed-up Blessing: A New Encounter with Being Church, Inspire, 2006 (an inspirational story of bread church – a classic).
Andy Milne, The DNA of Pioneer Ministry, SCM Press, 2016 (tells the story of Sorted, a new community among teenagers, drawing out key principles).
Stuart Murray, Planting Churches. A Framework for Practitioners, Paternoster, 2008 (does what the title says).
Michael Moynagh, Being Church, Doing Life, Monarch, 2014, with Foreword by Alan Hirsch (contains principles for starting new Christian communities, illustrated by over 120 stories).
Michael Moynagh, Church in Life: Innovation, Mission and Ecclesiology, SCM Press, 2017 (packed full of theology and principles for action, with case studies).
Go to the 3DM publishing store for some helpful titles