One of the things I have taken for granted in the process of announcing our departure to Boston in 2018 to plant Renaissance Christian Church, is that people actually know what church planting is (and will look like in a post-Christian society). On a daily basis, as I engage in conversations with interested people and parties about what we are doing, I am bombarded with questions that remind me how foreign church planting is for the average person. I hear things like:
"So, do you have a church building picked out?"
"It's going to look like our church, right?"
"Are there several hundred people joining your church or is this starting from scratch?"
So with this in mind, let me take time to address a few things about our future endeavor. Hopefully, such clarification will help you understand what you are supporting, and what you should be praying about. While we are still in the early stages of fundraising and planning, with some things still in-flux, here are a few things we know for sure....
1. This is pioneering work.
Despite its rich history as the epicenter of American Christianity, Boston and New England as a whole now is the biggest mission field in our country. Like Western Europe, Canada and other places in the U.S before it, this area has moved beyond the Christian faith. The Biblical story that once shaped culture is no longer the narrative that gives meaning to life.
This means the church has faded to the margin of society and in some places is border line extinct. In other words, vibrant, Christ-centered churches are needed. So, through Restoration House Ministries, we are looking to start a church where the church is needed most. In fact, in October our entire team will be visiting Boston for a week to officially select which neighborhood/city within Boston we will be planting the church. Through the help of demographic studies and the expertise of other RHM church planters, we have narrowed it down to three communities. We will be excited to officially have our landing spot after that trip.
So as you can probably guess, this means moving into the neighborhood, building relationships, loving people, serving the community and eventually starting a church service from scratch. Church planting is pioneering work, in fact it has been since the Apostle Paul was planting churches in the first century world.
Missiologist Michael Frost compares church planters to that of weeds. Another word for weeds is pioneer plants according to horticulturalists. Frost states, "Weeds have to be the hardiest, most courageous, the pioneer plants, the first ones in." Despite being plucked, sprayed and nuked, they grow strong roots in this foreign culture and eventually, make way for more. While maybe not the most flattering of images, Frost says church planters do the same work. In many ways, that's our goal. Pioneer the Gospel through love, grace and serving (a.k.a. making deep roots). Our dream is that Renaissance would be so intertwined in our neighborhoods and community that they would grieve if we left.
2. This is urban-focused work.
The aforementioned Apostle Paul was the first great church planter. He pioneered the Gospel throughout the known world in the first century by focusing on urban areas. Tim Keller notes of Paul: "The greatest missionary in history, St. Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5)."
This vision has never been more applicable. Studies show that around half the world's population lives in cities. The current trends show that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. Urbanization is current reality the church must become awakened to.
Thus, when we began to approach a Boston church plant, our focus quickly moved to the city. Not that suburban dwellers are any less in need of the Gospel, but cities are the epicenter of influence. This is definitely the case with Boston. It is the hub of life in New England, and thanks to its 50-plus colleges and universities within the city, it is a globally influential city. We wanted to be close to that action, and all three of the communities and neighborhoods we are looking at are within I-95 (connected to public transit) and closely attached to the city itself. This means an urban church that will look much different than the very suburban brand of Christianity that has become so prevalent in current culture.
3. This is unconventional work.
Building on that previous statement, the work we will be doing will not look like what many have known and become familiar with within church culture. While we will not compromise truth or the importance of the Gospel, our methodologies will be based on the context we are planting in. Just like mission work in a cross-cultural context, we will be molding our methods to the culture of Boston.
While much of this is still to be decided after we pick the exact community we will be in and we get our boots on the ground, we already know that there will be things that won't look like what many of our supporters are familiar with. For instance: we'll be renting a commercial space for our gatherings, we likely won't have an office and will be mobile, and our foundation will be relational community and not programs in a building. Hopefully, you already get a flavor and feel for how different this is.
Again, hopefully such clarification will help you understand what you are supporting, and what you should be praying about. This is difficult, innovative work and we covet your prayers as we begin to engage in it. Let the adventure begin!