I have always wanted this blog to be an honest account of what it’s like to plant a church/site in 21st century Manchester. So it is about time that I filled you in on some failure.
In the summer of 2011 I started banging on about starting a new site of Christ Church Manchester in Levenshulme. I had a plan. It was a fairly simple plan and I was convinced it would work. Basically, we were going to book a room somewhere in Levenshulme in the middle of the week, make a whole bunch of noise using social media, pray, worship and hope that people started showing up. Simple.
We found a room. Boom. Site planted.
Then a couple of things happened –
1) We lost the room
2) September, October and November at CCM:City distracted me.
So CCM:Levenshulme didn’t exactly happen because it didn’t exactly happen! We took the idea for a spin and we came up against a few obstacles, including my own time limitations, and we couldn’t get the engine started.
At CCM we describe ourselves as church planting entrepreneurs. This sounds a little grand but all it really really means is that we have faith that God will use us to start something from nothing. So at the very beginning of a plant we only need a tiny bit of leverage (a room, a couple of people) to give us the faith to keep pushing. With CCM:City a very cheap room, and a couple of visitors in the first few months gave us faith. Levenshulme needed to give us a tiny bit of faith quite quickly, and that didn’t happen.
Is that the end of the story? Nope. In fact I think I have a better idea of how we can make it work next time round.
Am I upset? Not really. In fact I am pleased that we took the idea out for a spin and I genuinely believe that something will happen for us at some point in Levenshulme.
To sumarise – CCM:Levenshulme hasn’t happened…yet.
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.
Its that time of year again when 18 year olds across the country wait impatiently for their A-level results.
It feels like this moment could define the rest of your life. You feel like some bad results will come as a crushing blow to your future that you will never recover from. The possibilities of University life look tantalizing and petrifying all at the same time.
Let me tell you what happened to me on A-level day in 1995 (I don’t look it but I am THAT old).
I failed badly. I got a “D” a “U” and a “N”. You ever hear of anyone else who got “N”? Me neither. Crushing failure.
I discovered that you cannot start a punk band in your last year of A-levels, develop a debilitating passion for beer, perfect the art of non-attendance AND never ever hand in any work and still expect to go to University.
I remember opening the letter and looking at the “grades” I’d got and realizing I had been a little bit stupid/immature/lazy. That feeling is burned into my memory.
I took two years out. Year 1 was volunteering for a church as youth worker and year 2 was as a volunteer in a homeless hostel.
My time volunteering in the homeless hostel helped me realize how ridiculously privileged I was and how easy my life had been up until that point. I applied to University as a mature student and got in by the skin of my teeth. Three years later I got a 2:1 in a degree that I worked hard for.
The moral of the story? Well, firstly don’t start a punk band two months before your exams start, but perhaps more importantly don’t worry about failure. Failure just means you need to learn a few lessons before you try again.
Andy Back and Luke Morris make excellent comments on my last post. They are address the issue of lyrical content and I agree with them both. A corporate worship song packed with good theology and biblical content is the best kind. The “Jesus is my boyfriend” stuff is hard for me to navigate without getting a little annoyed.
A number of modern worship artists/leaders write songs with cracking content. Stuff you can really get your head round and as a middle class lad, who has been to Uni and been around church culture my whole life it is easy for me to identify with these songs. That may not be the case for everyone. I think songs that are more about emotional than intellectual engagement are not to be dismissed by theological snobbery.
My main beef is the music styles used. Which some may view as being less important than lyrical content but I beg to differ. PJ Smyth blogs about the importance of credible Sunday meetings and Ed Stetzer writes (brilliantly) about contextualisation here and here. The music we use when we worship has to be a part of that conversation.
Let me pose you a question. Why do most of the large Christian Youth events, albums and even Youth Churches have generic mid 90s white boy rock (Paul Weller on a slow day) as their Worship Music genre of choice? Again, where is the creativity?
(Please note – I am aware that I am asking questions and have not ever provided the answers! I have not tried to innovate with music at church myself as I have never had that level of influence or anywhere near the level of required ability. My hope and my intention is that CCM:City will at least attempt the things I am ranting about)
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.
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.
If every church planter, church leader and blogger was as honest as Euan then there would be more churches in the world. The world of twitter and blogging could turn us all into turning us into self promoters and makes us compare ourselves unfavorably to others. Both of which cannot be good.
Anyways, read Euans blog.
Having blogged recently about how much I suck and how much I/we need to be honest about our suckiness I feel I need to move on. There needs to be some balance in the force (can a Christian blogger write that?). I cannot spend all my time moaning about how rubbish I am. (although, I am….). The important thing I need to remember is how irrelevant my rubbishness is. So in short, “I suck, but it doesn’t matter”. Why doesn’t it matter? Because God covers me.
Faith is not something many evangelicals talk about anymore. We place a high emphasis on a correct understanding of the word of God, yet for most it does not produce powerful living. The result of correct understanding should be correct living. I believe this is true because often we place value on a cerebral understanding of truth and not faith filled revelation.
I understand my position and I understand God is amazing and wants to do amazing things. I understand this in my head.