Monday, December 26, 2016

Planting an Urban Church

Urban Ministry 10

NOTE: Today’s blog is a guest post from Pastor Courtney Lewis of the Cornerstone Baptist Church here in Chicago. In my 13 years in the city he is the only independent Baptist church planter to successfully plant a church in Chicago’s inner city. This is his second post in this series. This one is directly about planting a church in an urban environment.

Acts 18:10 "For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee:
for I have much people in this city."

God used this verse to solidify my call to the great city of Chicago.  We have been blessed to find some of his people in this city, and we are looking forward to winning more in years to come.  I believe God is preparing the heart of "much people in this city."  I continue to pastor the church we started almost nine years ago.  It is a privilege to Pastor Cornerstone Baptist Church.  I am not an expert, and have learned much by trial and much by error.  At times my zeal caused me to offend people that I'm convinced needed to remain under our ministry. My people deserve a better pastor, but I know I'm called to lead them.

Before writing on the subject of Inner city church planting, I would like to commend Pastor Brennan for taking the time to address the subject of urban ministry in general. His posts on this delicate topic have been insightful and challenging.  I am privileged to pastor in the same city as my friend Pastor Tom Brennan.

In 2008, we were led of God to plant a church on the spiritually destitute south side of the city of Chicago.  Ours is not a large work, but our people love God and the church is slowing growing.  Yesterday was a normal Sunday and 124 people gathered to worship.  Most of these attenders were in the main adult service.  While we make no apology for having a small bus ministry, we are not a "bus church." In February 2017 our church will make a transition and become fully autonomous and financially independent.

Definition of Church Planting

What is church planting?  Simply stated, it is what the Apostle Paul did during his missionary journeys.  His basic blueprint consisted of going to a city, winning souls to Jesus, baptizing them, and organizing them into a New Testament church. 

Paul's works were built from scratch, mostly with new (baby) Christians.  From the start we were determined to follow this Biblical model.  I have no toleration for the cancer that I see spreading in Independent Baptist church plants.  In many a scenario, a man will begin his church planting endeavors by taking disgruntled members from other churches.  Then he solicits a bunch of Bible college graduates to come "join" him in the work as "unpaid staff."  The numbers look great for that church, but church planting is not about the membership of one church increasing at the expense of another church decreasing.  It is about increasing the family of God and decreasing the family of the Devil.  If another member of a church of like faith visits Cornerstone, their pastor will receive a phone call from me.  If they don't belong to this flock, why are they coming to this shepherd?  Ministerial ethics is poorly lacking in our ranks. 

New urban churches grow best with new converts.  Newly saved Christians will not be bothered by your less than ideal facilities.  We have met in three different locations from Sunday services over the past eight years.  The first location was the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.  The smell of sweat from their much used gym would hit your nose upon entering the building.  The place was often very dirty and we had to do much of our own cleaning.  Homosexuals used our space the night before for parties and we had to pickup after them.  Now we have a beautiful, spacious, church building that the Lord blessed us with in 2015.  We even have our own gym!  One of  our men told me that he missed the first location.  I was in disbelief!  His reply was simply this, "Pastor, that old place is where I found Jesus."  The point is simple, newly saved people will sit in folding chairs, drink cheap coffee, search up and down a crowded city block for parking, and enjoy a new pastor's early sermons.  They are the best (and only) sermons they ever heard! Urban church planting is not about "member swapping" with another fundamental church, it is about going to an area and evangelizing that area with the good news of Jesus Christ.

(The first few to accept Christ in 2008. They were the only ones to attend these first services.)

They tell me that church planting in America is at a historic low. In Chicago, churches that have been started have grown old, changed doctrine and practice, and become lukewarm.  Many die, shutting their doors never to reopen them.   

Where To Begin?

Men of the past have used various methods to start new churches with great success.  I would not condemn those various methods unless there was a violation of Scripture.  While there is no exact science, here are some unifying principles that I feel should govern any church planting mission.  Especially in the inner city.  The Apostle Paul is our example in this.

First, there needs to be a strong sending (mother) church that is burdened to see the new church started.  Dr. Roger Voegtlin pastored Fairhaven Baptist Church in Chesterton, Indiana for 43 years.  For 12 of those years I had the privilege of being a member there and receiving a quality Bible college education that I would not trade my house for.  Fairhaven is a soulwinning church.  My wife and I are proud graduates of Fairhaven Baptist College.  Pastor Voegtlin had planted Fairhaven and consequently had the heart of a church planting pastor.  I learned much from him.  He stressed prayer, the power of God, and the family.  The church is now led by Pastor Steve Damron. Under the new leadership, the church continued it's unwavering commitment to our church plant.  Pastor Damron led the church to help us finance the purchase of a 15,000 square ft. facility. What I can tell you is that both of these men were greatly desirous of seeing an independent, fundamental, Baptist church planted in Barack Obama's Hyde Park neighborhood.  Cornerstone needed the oversight, resources, prayer, encouragement, and pattern of a strong, vibrant sending church.  While admittedly biased, no modern church planter on earth has had a better sending church than Fairhaven.  The Apostle Paul had this type of sending church in the church at Antioch. 

(Me and my wife at Fairhaven)

Secondly, Paul was sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I have read everything I can get my hands on pertaining to the subject of Baptist church planting and most of the material out there is light on the subject of the Holy Spirit.  He must lead, and He must empower.  I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.  I am not a charismatic, and I will not argue semantics. Good men argue about what term to use and die for lack of the experience! When Paul wanted to preach in Asia, the Spirit would not allow him.  Paul listened, and received the Macedonian Call into Greece.  He went to Europe empowered by the Holy Ghost. The innercity church planter must wait on God.  When things get rough in "the hood" you better know God the Holy Spirit put you there. 

Thirdly, Paul chose a region and then narrowed down the location for the new works.  Paul went to specific regions or provinces, and then chose the largest and most dynamic cities in those regions for his works.  His focus was on the big cities of the Roman world.  Paul was sort of a "city slicker", as one who grew up in the city of Tarsus ("no mean city"-Acts 21:39).  He studied in Jerusalem, and served Christ in Antioch.  He was as "urban" a church planter as could be found at that time in church history.  Keep starting churches in the small towns and suburbs, but don't overlook Chicago!!!

Fourthly, Paul was active in seeking out potential areas for evangelism.  This will take time and effort from your current place of ministry.  If an area is on your heart, take a drive to that area.  Buy a neighborhood news paper to get a feel for the people there.  While you are in the store buying the paper, study the people. What does Wikipedia say about that neighborhood?  In other words, do your homework.

Fifthly, Paul was flexible as he took steps towards finalizing the location. One man said it best: "Paul wrote his plans in pencil. He was willing to change them to stay in the will of God."  Pastor Voegtlin and I drove around the different neighborhoods, but he made it clear that I had to find God's will on where to start the church.

Sixth, Paul focused his church planting efforts in areas destitute of churches. In Romans 15:20, Paul made it clear that he didn't want to "build upon another man's foundation."  Because of the sheer number of people in Chicago, I could never build on Pastor Brennan's foundation on the north side, even if I tried! While our city can handle lots of churches, I would not have started next door to him.

Seventh, Paul had to begin all of his works in someone else's property.We refused to let the fact we did not own a building intimidate us.  Paul did't have a building, but he had church! 

(Grand opening Sunday in 2008)

Starting the church

We were not sent out as a team with another couple.  I took no members with me from my sending church.  When we arrived in Chicago from Indiana, we knew we had to hit the ground running if we were going to have people to preach the gospel to.  Me and my wife spent one full year raising support as missionaries to Chicago.  Most works fail because of lack of finances.  We raised enough support to be full time from then until now.  It takes all the time a man can find to start and pastor a new church in an urban area with a high cost of living so take the support from other good churches and run with it! Let them know that your goal is to transition the church to an autonomous and self-supporting church.

Door to door soulwinning still works.  Don't let the devil and backslidden pastors tell you different.  Some of the most dedicated Christians in our church were reached from door to door soulwinning.  Where would they be if we didn't knock on their door?  Door knocking is necessary to meet a lot of people.  You will average 45-55 doors per hour when you are door knocking.  Keep good records of the doors you knock.  Get names and phone numbers of those interested.  Have a first class church flyer and good gospel tracts.  Look for opportunities to share the gospel.  43 visiting adults came to our first service.  Most came from the door to door efforts.  I personally knocked on doors at least 30 hours a week that first year.

Understand that you must build a strong base before you branch out with ministries.  You must build your base with middle class to upper-middle class people.  Please capture what I am about the write:  While we planted in Chicago, and while I am black, we did not go to the ghetto to start a church.  Now, eight years later we are able to send the middle class people we have won to Christ to the ghetto.  The results are slower, but the church must be established or it will stay a mission church with no chance of true survival as an independent work.  The following thoughts have helped me over the years in Chicago:

-Bus crowd responds to a flashy bus flyer
-Middle income crowd responds to a well-done brochure
-Bus crowd responds to an exciting program on the bus
-Middle income crowd responds to a well-ordered church service
-Bus crowds like cotton candy and a hot dog
-Middle income crowd needs a clean, comfortable place to meet
-Bus crowds may provide the bulk of salvation decisions and baptisms
-Middle income crowd will fund the ministries that provide the bulk of the salvation decisions and baptisms.


Personal Finances

I would recommend not starting a church in an urban area while in debt.  Because the big cities are money traps, you will need to be free from payments.  Chicago wants to put a meter on our windpipe so they can charge us for the air we breathe (Just kidding, but I wouldn't put it past Rahm Emmanuel and Toni Preckwinkle).  Read Dave Ramsey's books, but don't let him teach you to be a hoarder.  Save several thousand dollars to start with.  You will need to pay deposits on your apartment or house and church meeting place.  Printing to advertise the new church will need to be done.  Lots of printing.  If you raise support, save money from love offerings for these start up expenses. 

Don't Forget Your Family

Your family needs to be "all in" and committed to it as much as you are.  Many men have given their lives to a ministry and destroyed their families in the process.  Have as nice a home as you can for your family to live in.  You will be out of the house a ton that first year and your family needs to feel good about where they live.  Spend special time with your wife without the kids.  Take getaways at hotels, go for lunch, coffee, dessert.  Try your best to find a fundamental Christian school for them.  Even if you have to drive an hour one way (like us), it will be worth it.  Friday nights are family nights at our home.  I turn my cell phone off and we do many of the things that Pastor Brennan mentioned in his post on Parenting in the city. 

Closing tidbit

Church planting is about soulwinning through a new church.  Many well established churches are doing their part.  However, we need a new group of church planters that will establish new embassies for Jesus in a neighborhood.

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