We have been in Manchester for 3 years and 4 months. By we I mean the Simmonds family. The Manchester branch of the Simmonds family includes me (Husband, Dad, Churchy Workery type), Vicki (wife, Mother, Nurse), Abi (Daughter, Pupil, Artist) and Esther (Daughter, Pupil, Ninja).
We moved because of me. I felt called to Manchester and church planting. Vicki and the kids gracefully allowed me to chase after my dreams. The move meant Vicki gave up a good job, we left all our friends and all our community connections. Vicki was onboard and excited but she sacrificed more than I did.
I remembered this recently when we started our new morning meeting. CCM:City meets now on Sundays at 10:30am and 6:30pm. Until we started this meeting we were all going to CCM:Gorton. We have a bunch of friends there and my kids get to join in with some brilliant kids work. Abi and Esi had a bunch of good buddys that they loved seeing every week.
Now, the kids work at CCM:City is just my kids. So now me and girls have started talking about church planting! We pray that families join, and that children become christians. Honestly, this is a new one on me. I feel a certain amount of pressure because I want my kids to be an important part of church life (as all kids should be) and at the moment we are the only parents with young kids! There are benefits to this, as my kids always have enthusiastic adults to play with every Sunday and we have total domination of the babysitting network. However, when I was a kid I went to churches with amazing kids work and talented kids workers.
The kids are 5 and 3 so everything is an adventure for them. They don’t complain, they enjoy church and they love their older friends. I am just praying that the adventure will include a few more buddies their own age.
I have become an avid reader of the What You Think Matters blog. It is often thought provoking, witty and the tone is just right. There is nothing worse than theology by angry/aggressive/annoying theologians. The writers on WYTM are none of those things and because they are involved in church leadership in some way I feel like they understand the practical reality of life (unlike some theologians).
So I was very interested by Andrew Wilsons article of Church leaders obsession with Church size . As usual it was very well written and thought provoking. As a church leader who obsesses a little to much over numbers I thought I would respond.
Cast your minds back to valentines day in 2010. CCM:City (or the chapel as it was known then) had been going for 6 months. We started with 7 or 8 people and frankly we still only had about 7 or 8 people. Every now and again a few visitors would turn up and we thought revival was breaking out. It wasn’t. The visitors would take the free drink, back away slowly and then change their mobile phone number.
On Feb 14th 2010 there was 6 of us sat in the top floor of a freezing cold vodka bar in Fallowfield. The meeting usually start at 7pm and by 8pm I realised that this week was going to be quieter than usual and usually we were pretty quiet. This was my magnificent church plant. 6 people and a headache. I remember the week after wondering if I had lost my mind. That was probably the lowest point.
Just over two years later it is easy to look back and smile (I have’t quite managed to laugh about it yet) but the reality is that when you plant a church (a site of a church in our case) then numbers are very important. If nobody turns up to meetings, joins a mission group or joins the community then you don’t have a church plant you just have an acute sense of loneliness. ACUTE.
Andrew suggest 4 reasons that leaders obsess over numbers, which I will offer my opinion on –
1. The first is that, in a group of churches where the size of congregation drives income and hence the staff base (which is not true in many more established denominations), larger congregations provide greater job security and opportunities to specialise for their leaders, two things which many (though by no means all) church leaders aspire to.
Well, yes Andrew is probably correct but in all honesty I suspect that this thinking starts a little while into a church plant. To start with you just want the thing to live! When there was 6 of us all I wanted was there to be 7 of us, specialising to my gifting had not even entered my thinking. To be honest my gifting largely consists of badgering people to come to church until they give in.
2. A number is one of the most rapid ways of placing your church in some sort of context for people who have never been there.
Absolutely bang on. When asked by another church leader “How it going?” I know they want to know how many people I have (at least that is what I assume they are asking). All sorts of internal assessments and judgements then get made. That is certainly what I do. Some repentance may be required!
3. It is hard to argue with the fact that in general, and all other things being equal, more gifted leaders lead larger churches.
This is hard to disagree with but I think I am going to disagree. I know a few guys who lead churches of a 1000 + and they are gifted in ways that I can’t even dream of. However, the gifting required to get a church from 0 to 50 is completely different and probably undervalued (I would say that though). In fact getting a church from 0 to 5 is hard enough so I am not sure Andrew is being fair.
4. The main reason we are tempted to measure leadership success by church size is simple: it’s because it’s easy to count.
Absolutely, and I love the alternative suggestions that Andrew suggests for measuring the health of a church but every church leader will still count people.
Someone leading without anyone following is just someone taking a walk.
This is almost true. Jesus is our model for leadership and at times he was completely isolated.
Church planters start by effectively leading nobody. We can sometimes find ourselves in this position for a while. There comes a point when people start signing up to the new church and it feels like you are getting somewhere. It feels like they have bought into the vision and are ready to be led into the great unknown.
The reality is a little different.
Sometimes I encounter this expectation that leadership is a deeply idealistic position where people follow your vision, your ideas, your preaching, your theology or your gifting. To start with I don’t think this is true. When a church is small enough for everyone to know the leader (1 – 100ish) then relationship is what matters. First of all people need to like the leader, only then will they follow.
Lately I have discovered myself living a strange existence. I have been spending a lot of time convincing people that I am likeable (tough sell), whilst be myself and only needing the approval of Jesus not men.
Most people joining the church don’t care that much about our theology, our worship, our small group structure or our vision. They just want to feel like they can belong. Only once they have found there place in the community do they worry about the other things.
You have to be true to what you believe is possible and you have to be realistic about what is likely. The clash between faith and reality can sometimes be quite painful.
There have been a few times in the last couple of years where I felt a distinct sense of belief. People have kindly prayed and brought prophetic words and I feel like a million pounds. Indestructible. Like my destiny is written in the stars. Like I could be the NEXT PIPER/DRISCOLL/VIRGO/KING DAVID!!!! Then the next sunday comes round and 10 people turn up because they felt sorry for me and then I realise that reality has punched my faith in the face and run off with his wallet.
I cannot count the amount of Monday mornings where I have just felt foolish. The sinking feeling that not only am I barking up the wrong tree but that the tree is dying and will soon fall over and kill me is burned into my brain.
I remember meeting with one guy who visited CCM:City back when it was The Chapel a few times. I explained all that I wanted to do and how he could get involved. I was articulate, engaging, funny and visionary.
I never saw him again. He ignore my texts and avoided me on facebook.
I realised that at the beginning of the church planting process vision and faith is really only for the entrepreneur because nobody else is that interested. You have to cling tight to what you believe God has called you to do because there is nothing else to hold onto.
It all sounds a little bit dramatic and over the top but you have to hold the big vision within yourself and try to win one battle at a time. I remember at the very beginning of this venture feeling like it might be easy because I was so sure of what God had told me. How naive was I?
The truth is I am more sure of what God has told me now than I was then. The only difference is that it drives me to win one person at a time and not to expect an easy ride.
I like to count. I like to track growth and decline. I like being able to see when and why we grow or shrink. This is fun when you have a full room, and it sucks when there is only six of you (that was a low in every sense of the word).
So The Chapel started at the end of September 2009. Since then we have had over 60 first time visitors, roughly 30 – 40 people come along regularly and the last two months have seen us average around 20ish (biggest night was 24) people on a Sunday evening. We started in September with a handful of people who were committed to The Chapel, this group changed over the year.
It feels like we have scaled the heights and plumbed the depths, however I doubt that we have done either. The strange thing about looking back is the odd feeling that it is only going to get more exciting, difficult, joyful and excruciating in the future.
I have learnt a whole bunch about pioneering, planting, security, ego, how much I suck and what having faith actually means. I will unpack a bunch of that over the summer.
So when we started The Chapel in the only venue I could find in the area I wanted (that didn’t cost stupid money) was Baa Bar. This vodka bar has been awesome. The staff have been uber-helpful and haven’t flinched at our churchyness (that is a word), even if one girl did compare us to a mentally ill homeless guy who claimed to talk to Jesus about his shopping habits (low point).
We have been able to gather a group of people that is wide, weird and disparate. I think we have about 40/50 people that visit us fairly regularly but never on the same night. So if we push over 20 we are doing well.
We discovered that people are viewing The Chapel as a cool thing in a vodka bar that they can visit when their “normal church” isn’t doing anything on a Sunday evening. Which is OK if thats all you want. I want more. I want a wide, weird and disparate Church that loves Jesus and loves Manchester. I don’t want another odd little ministry that is consumable but nothing to commit to. That would be lame. Manchester needs churches rammed full of passionate and committed Christians.
So we decided that shifting The Chapel up the road to a more conventional building and turning it into a proper Christ Church Manchester site/location (CCM:City) was the way to go. Really I need to have something that I could ask people to commit too.
The Chapel recommences on Sunday. The last few months have been a ride, and I cannot wait to get back into the wierdness that is the chapel. Mainly because I have no idea who is going to show up. March gather such a wide, wierd and disparate crowd that I am excited about reconnecting with new friends and meeting a whole bunch of newbies
Anyways, this week we are going to discuss the next year or so. I love looking forward because it makes me look to God and the whole idea was his, not mine.
We are pioneering the chapel because we want to see Manchester changed. We want Jesus to fix this broken, busted and beautiful city.
Anyways, if you live in Manchester come along. If you don’t then pray for us.
The Chapel is taking a two-week break for easter (there must be something wrong with church stopping for easter…).
So this seems like a good time for a brief review of how we have done since christmas.
Up until Christmas we ran on adrenaline and a small amount of success. We had 30 ish visitors from late Sept to early Dec. Some of these visitors came back, some didn’t. Either way we made some good friends.
We recommenced in mid January and to be honest it was a little like pushing watery custard up a hill. A steep hill. January and February were just plain difficult. We had very few visitors and very little interest. People began asking questions. I was questioning the viability of the chapel myself. Valentines day was a low point as only six people showed up. Six.
Then in March something changed. Honestly I am not sure what changed but something did. Since early March we have had 21 brand new first time visitors, we have regularly got 20 people on the night and that 20 is different every week. So it looks like we have a regular crowd of 30 – 40 people.
The worship has improved with a real sense of Gods presence every week and the teaching has gotten better as well. We are better at following up newbies and we have the beginnings of a cracking core team.
We start again on April 18th until the end of May. We shall meet through the Summer to pray for September and train the core team. I am very very excited about September, back in January and February I couldn’t even think about September without feeling slightly depressed.
(Warning – this post is me clearing my head. What I write may seem obvious/dull to you but the process of blogging helps my thinking. Cool? Read on)
Since Christmas the question of what the chapel is has been bugging me. To be honest many people have asked me the question and that bugs me as well. I was asked if it was a church plant, if it would become a church plant, if it was an alpha course, a discussion group, or a prayer meeting. Someone even asked me if it was a “cafe church”? What does that even mean?
Anyways, questions and critique do us good. So I let the question fly around in my head (plenty of room up there) and finally I feel like I am getting somewhere.
The Chapel is absolutely and fundamentally a church. No question. It is a meeting of Christ Church Manchester. It is a meeting that is equal to our morning meetings. So The Chapel is a site of Christ Church Manchester.
This means that we are pioneering a site of Christ Church Manchester. We are not planting a church….. although when are we not planting churches?